33,000 San Franciscans

– Photo: Lincoln Madison

by Willie Ratcliff

It’s December, and 33,000 San Francisco voters are still waiting for justice. All summer, in every neighborhood in the city, people eagerly signed our rèferendum petition to stop the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan. We needed 21,000 signatures; we turned in over 33,000 and the Elections Department verified them. We were jubilant. We – 33,000 San Franciscans – had stopped the biggest land grab in the city’s history.

Then in September, at the request of Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Sophie Maxwell, City Attorney Dennis Herrera threw out the signatures of over 33,000 San Franciscans with the ridiculous excuse that each petition should have been as thick as a phone book. No matter that our petitions had been thoroughly examined and approved by all the appropriate officials before we circulated them.

So much for democracy in San Francisco! The Redevelopment Agency. and its developer friends, hungry for our neighborhood, San Francisco’s sunniest and most scenic, began to sink its teeth into Bayview Hunters Point, to chew us up and spit us out.

We see three ways to justice: 1) We want to sue the City but haven’t yet found attorneys we can afford who are willing to take the case. 2) We want at least six members of the Board of Supervisors to reconsider and rescind their approval of the Redevelopment Plan, and we’re encouraging them to do so. 3) We want a law passed at the local, state or federal level to prohibit the kind of eminent domain that seizes property from one private owner and gives it to a richer one. That would incapacitate the Redevelopment Agency and stop the land grab.

This week, we have a slim chance to pull off the third option. The U.S. Senate could pass federal eminent domain reform before Congress adjourns if we push them hard enough. H.R. 4128 passed the House over a year ago 376-38. The identical Senate bill, S. 3873, could pass this week if 33,000 San
Franciscans and our friends all over the country call our Senators. In California, we need to call Sen. Barbara Boxer at (202) 224-3553 and Sen. Dianne Feinstein at (202) 224-3841, and we need to do it TODAY!

We still need to limit eminent domain in California too. Prop 90, which would have done that, failed because of some additional language about “takings.” I feel vindicated to learn that in Nevada, where a similar measure was on the ballot this year, the courts struck down the “takings” language, leaving only the language limiting eminent domain, and the voters passed it. I had proposed that route for California. Too bad we missed the opportunity.

We should demand that the California legislature limit eminent domain, as 34 other states have done in the past year. If our legislators refuse as they refused last year we’ll know they’re still in the clutches of the big developers and their big campaign donations. And we’ll know that they don’t give a damn about us in Bayview Hunters Point or about 33,000 San Franciscans seeking justice.

And why not limit eminent domain in San Francisco? According to www.propertyfairness.org: “On June 6, 2006, voters in Orange County, California, approved a countywide eminent domain measure. The measure was approved with 75 percent of the vote. Orange County was the first local jurisdiction in the nation to weigh in on eminent domain restrictions at the ballot box. The measure prohibits eminent domain for economic development.”

If the voters can do it in Orange County, the Board of Supervisors can do it in San Francisco. How about it, Supervisors? Do at least six of you have the courage to give 33,000 San Franciscans the justice they seek?

P.S. The headline 33,000 San Franciscans” was inspired by a lady I’d never met who came by recently with a box full of 1,000 plain white postcards printed on one side in bold black letters: “33,000 San Franciscans. I don’t know what you can do with these,” she said, “but I signed the petition and I’m so angry our signatures were thrown out that I had to do something.”

Supervisors, your constituents are furious. They call and email me constantly wondering what we’re going to do, what they can do and, most of all, what you’re going to do. Your constituents, 33,000 of them, demand justice. It’s yours to give.

Contact Bay View Publisher Willie Ratcliff at editor@sfbayview.com or (415) 671-0789.