Hearing by the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee Aug. 7, 2008, on San Francisco’s Declining African-American Population
Testimony by Minister Christopher Muhammad
I, for one, am very appreciative that your offices and this committee have chosen to call a hearing on the most critical issue probably facing the City and County of San Francisco today, and that is the total removal of its African-American population. As many of us know who have studied the history of San Francisco, Blacks were very instrumental in San Francisco’s founding, and to come to this point in time where the African-American population is decreasing in every major city in America, bar none – but in San Francisco you run the risk of losing the entire Black population – it is not only appropriate to call a hearing, there should be emergency hearings because this is an emergency situation.
What’s sad about this is – and I want to commend Barbara Cohen for the courage that it took to not make a politically correct statement but to stand up and in essence say that she and others were used – whenever you want a problem to go away, a wise political leader told me once, he said, “Minister, just study it to death and if you really want it to go away, establish a blue ribbon panel to study it and then over a six-month or a year period people will forget about it. It will collect dust and we will move on to real business.”
But what you’ve done, Supervisor Daly, is you put it back on the front burner. It’s right to call the head of Redevelopment to a hearing like this because it was the Redevelopment Agency that literally took the gist of the African American community out in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Malcolm X said if you stick a knife in my back 10 inches and pull it out five inches, you haven’t made progress. You haven’t made progress if you pull the knife out all the way. You don’t make progress until you heal the wound that the knife created in the first place.
So for Redevelopment not to be able to offer concrete solutions to a problem it created on behalf of the Pacific Heights and Nob Hill Mafia, the big money developers who did not want a vibrant African-American community three blocks from City Hall – it was the Redevelopment Agency that was used then and it is the Redevelopment Agency that is being used today – so when you know you have a hearing, we’re expecting to hear something from people who are commissioned by this mayor, who likes to have press conferences, who likes to have media events, who likes to trot people out that can represent an agenda that may or may not be in the best interests of the community.
It was The Chronicle’s article that talked about the de-population of African-Americans and, quite coincidentally, three days later there was a press conference announcing a task force, and some of the best minds we have in our community were trotted out along with some who are not the best minds in our community but have sold out. You have people like Aileen Hernandez, respected scholar, activist in her own right and I have tremendous respect for her. You have Barbara Cohen and others who I have tremendous respect for.
But as I told them in private and I’ll say it in public because I don’t say in the public what I don’t say in private, I told them they were being used then and as Barbara Cohen confirmed they’re being used today. So their recommendations were mothballs but we already knew that because “The Unfinished Agenda” [an excellent study subtitled “The Economic Status of African Americans in San Francisco 1964-1990” and published by the City in 1993] was mothballs. All they really had to do was dust off “The Unfinished Agenda” and demand that either this mayor and this government implement what was written back in 1990 or we’re going to publicly resign from this farce called the Outmigration Task Force.
That’s a crime in and of itself to call this serious problem of Black de-population “outmigration.” It’s like calling the AIDS virus or HIV a wound or a cold or the flu. You have to give it what it deserves: This is a crisis.
So for Mr. [Fred] Blackwell [executive director of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency appointed Aug. 14, 2007] to come before us and say, and believe me, I don’t want to say anything publicly that I haven’t said in private and Mr. Blackwell knows that. He and I have had coffee on at least seven occasions where I pleaded with him privately as a brother to a brother ‘cause I was taught that way: Go to your brother if you see something wrong and pull his coat.
I did that – gave him documents, gave him statistics, gave him all the information he would need to begin to change the culture of Redevelopment because, oftimes, powerful people want to implement a vision that they have upon people that are not powerful. They have to get a person from the community of the oppressed to represent that vision in the form of directors and leaders, so that you will think progress has been made when you put a Black face in position. That’s not something that Black people should fall victim to today.
And so what I’m suggesting to your hearing, Supervisor, is that the Black population in this City is not 50,000 or 48,000. You can’t call for census data when it’s convenient. The Mayor’s Office put forth some stupidity called “drill down data,” where they were trying to justify that under his [Mayor Gavin Newsom’s] watch Black people have not really declined. Why, they’ve been undercounted by drill down data!
And then you have African-Americans to try to sell this garbage to Black people on the ground who see the housing projects being de-populated, Black males being de-populated, Black families being de-populated. But we’re not to believe our lying eyes; we’re to believe this new interpretation of data which says that Black people are being undercounted, so it’s not what is being said by the census report but in fact it’s probably 10, 12 or 15,000 people greater because of a historic undercount.
Now, Mr. Blackwell pointed out that San Francisco and other Western cities are losing populations, but he pointed to Southern cities below the Mason-Dixon line as examples of cities gaining population. Well, if the Redevelopment did a true analysis, you will find that this de-population effort is going on all over America.
And when you start talking about cities like Atlanta, which we perceive to be Black cities, Black people do not live in Atlanta. Black people live in Decatur, Stone Mountain, in the suburbs. Black people are being de-populated out of Houston in the Third Ward and the Fifth Ward. We now live in Missouri City and Woodland.
So this de-population effort is part of a broader urban strategy that is being driven by developers like Lennar that are buying politicians, commissioners etc. that are not putting forth policy to scientifically remove African-Americans and poor people from the urban centers of America. Now that’s scientific.
And if you’re going to talk about this issue, you have to talk about it, not speaking to people as if they were children, but you have to speak to people with intelligence. But San Francisco is unique because of the population decreasing so rapidly that within the next three to five years on our watch as leaders, quote unquote – in fact it’s very dangerous to be called a leader in San Francisco because in truth God is going to hold all of us responsible when the scripture says “Whoa” to the shepherds.
So what you have now in this hearing, Supervisor, you have to now understand that this has to do with something else said earlier; you have to have the courage to take the issue of de-population out of the hands of the mayor and put it squarely on your shoulders. Your job, as Aileen Hernandez said, is “oversight” to make sure that the issues of the City are being carried out properly.
And so you have to say, “You know what? The same way you had an oversight committee proposal for the zoo to make sure that endangered populations of animals are not being destroyed or not being held back or not being protected, you’ve got to have an oversight committee that forces Redevelopment,” since this administration, whether they’re Black, Asian, Latino, if they’re part of this administration, there’s an agenda that they will push forward that has no Black people in its future in the next five years, so you can’t even trust a Black face anymore.
Now, so it is important that the Board of Supervisors put a committee together with power to force the Redevelopment Agency to either do the right thing because this quasi-state agency that has no accountability to any big money developers has to be checked. And maybe those in San Francisco have the courage or power to change.
But if Redevelopment destroyed this community, then they have a responsibility to be the lead agency in rebuilding. Let me tell you how this can be done very briefly: 1) Do you know that in some of our African-American churches right now, because of the loss of Black people in this city, some of them have been relegated to selling off their parking lots to build senior housing, to build condos? This is a shame.
Some of our prominent institutions are being forced to parcel off their land to try to get revenues to keep their doors open. Some of our churches have less than 30 people attending on Sunday, real talk.
But do you know that some of our religious leaders sold their congregation on the idea that the elders in the church were going to have housing, that the poor in their church were going to have housing if they agreed to sell off their parking lot to build senior housing, condominiums? And do you know that once those condominiums were built on those properties, out of 50 units on Rev. [Calvin] Jones’ property on Third Street – 50 senior housing units – less than 20 were given to African-Americans. And there’s a 400 person waiting list and I’m told by Rev. Calvin Jones that there are hardly any African-Americans on that waiting list, which means in two to five years when those elders pass on you will effectively have no African-Americans on the property built on Providence Baptist Church.
And Rev. Walker’s property over in Candlestick Point, they built 20 condominium units and I think three African-Americans – oh, is it two? So this is the vision of Redevelopment. They will say, Supervisor, they will tell you, “Well, it’s rough because we have federal guidelines and we’re handcuffed by non-discriminatory practices so even if we build these things we can’t ensure African-Americans benefit.”
Then you need to STOP! There needs to be a moratorium on Redevelopment Agency projects until you can fix the problem of making those preparations to repair the damage of destroying the Black presence in this City. But to keep building projects in Bayview Hunters Point, to keep building projects in the Western Addition, eight to 10 units with no guarantee, is part of the crime.
Now this City knows how to break the law when it is politically correct. You broke the law with gay marriage. Yes, you did. You BUCKED the law and said in San Francisco we’re going to do this. Why don’t you BUCK federal law right now and say we’re going to ensure Black people living in these units if we’re serious. It’s that important.
Lastly, you have to forgive me for talking with so much passion, but I don’t get paid to do this. My food is paid for by poor people. My clothes are bought by poor people. My shelter is provided for me by poor people. So I have no choice but to advocate for poor people.
Unfortunately, they didn’t invite me to be a member of the Tabernacle Group, so I’m not a Lennar co-developer, unfortunately, even though they haven’t signed their contract for the next three or four years. The point being, if we are going to solve this problem, this city, this agency, this so-called task force, this mayor, he’s going to have to have his feet held to a fire, not by a weakened Senate as in the days of Caesar, or a weakened Congress as in the days of George Bush, but we’re going to need an activist Board of Supervisors to force this mayor and this agency to have full accountability with benchmarks – not every six months, but every 60 days.
They’re going to have to come back and say, “How many African-Americans did we add to the City and County of San Francisco?”
Last point on this: You need to establish in this city as you did with your sanctuary policy, you need to establish an endangered community zone in Bayview Hunters Point and in the Western Addition. What that says is revolutionary but doable. You got enterprise zones, you got project area zones – they know how to zone a community when they want to – then you make an endangered community zone because we recognize as they did in Marin County when they were going to build a $200 million community development on the wetlands out there and they discovered that this was the last breeding ground for the California salamander and they halted that project because of its impact on the breeding of an endangered salamander.
Then you have to do the same thing with Bayview Hunters Point and the Western Addition: No development takes place or goes forward in these two communities until we can assess its real impact on the stability of and the future repopulation of the African-American community that we’ve determined is endangered.
And if you don’t put those kinds of protections around those communities, then the Lennars of the world, the Redevelopment Agencies of the world will continue to lie to the people, talk about Hope SF [that would demolish public housing and replace it with privatized “mixed-income housing” that few current residents could return to] while they’re evicting Black people all over this city, so by the time one on one replacement takes place, there won’t be any Black people to be replaced because they’ll all be gone.
Lennar’s airborne asbestos exceedances at the Hunters Point Shipyard
No. 1, let’s deal with the Lennar financial stability The young man from Redevelopment came to me, I think his name is Dougy Williams and he said that they had to kind of yeast up the grant application in order to make it attractive enough for the state to consider it. See, it’s no mark on the Redevelopment Agency, but the community has been lied to so much.
Do you know how many of these brothers and sisters who came out today, some of them sincerely thought that Prop. G was the salvation of our community. No, no, no, no, they were sincere. Many of them were poor residents that were used by Lennar and its agents.
Some of them were offered money, some of them were offered promises, and this is the real painful part for me because I know that some of these brothers and sisters don’t even know that they were tricked. Some of them, if you notice, the only time you can mobilize our poor people is to oppose us.
Sometimes they’ll go to them with $20 and offer them a chicken dinner to get on a bus to stop Christopher Muhammad and that group. This is the kind of garbage that’s going on in the poor suffering communities of Double Rock and Hunters View. So it hurts, man, but I have to advocate for them anyway cause I know, like Jesus said, “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they’re doing.” I know that.
They may not like me today but they’ll love me tomorrow because of the righteousness of what we’re standing on. When the Redevelopment Agency, after selling the community in the weeks leading up to [the] June 3 [election, when Propositions F and G were on the ballot] that this was about jobs, parks and housing, [they urged a Yes vote on] Prop. G and No on F because F was saying 50 percent [of housing built had to be] affordable.
And we knew Lennar wasn’t going to build one house but the people didn’t know that. We know Lennar is land-banking all over the country. Lennar is taking down cities all over the country. Cities are going into bankruptcy. I met with the mayor in Vallejo, Mayor Osby Davis. These people know they were banking on Lennar to build houses.
They gave them the Mare Island Shipyard for $1 with the promise of fancy presentations with drawings and renderings and they sold that City Council on a vision of Mare Island and 12 years later they haven’t hardly built nothing out there. Now the City [of Vallejo] has gone bankrupt waiting on Lennar and, as the Chronicle said in its editorial recently, that’s an ominous sign of what is yet to come.
And I warn you, San Francisco. You laid in bed with a dirty company that lies, that cheats, that manipulates and the Redevelopment Agency covered up what it knew, which is that the Lennar Corp. is in trouble. Their stocks are in the $9-$10 range, they’re declaring bankruptcy with the LLCs and areas around the state, and so we need to know what is the real reality of Lennar’s financial wherewithal.
And for the Redevelopment Agency to give cover to Lennar and to become now a chief grant-hustling operation to grab some $20 million from the state, grubbing for money and then saying to the state that in order for this project to go forward we need this money to begin Parcel A’s infrastructure. We’re not even talking about the whole Candlestick Point; we’re talking Parcel A, where they poison children.
And come to find out they don’t even have the resources to finish Parcel A’s infrastructure. I think a supervisor – and I have the exact words – Mr. M. Williams and then the [Redevelopment Agency] director, Mr. Blackwell, came out and said “Well, no, we don’t have any proper concerns about the project being completed.”
But which one is it? I think both of these gentlemen need to speak to their quoted remarks on record. One said that we’re in trouble, and the other one said we’re not in trouble. But the real problem is the community bought that crap hook, line and sinker and we need answers to Lennar’s financial responsibility.
Showing you the level of collusion between public agencies and a private rogue developer, the EPA now is under investigation by Sen. Boxer’s committee because of its collusion with polluters. That’s the EPA. The Center for Disease Control and all the agencies the EPA cited as giving confirmation to their findings as to why they don’t have to test poor Black children after being poisoned, they cited the very agencies that are all under Congressional investigation for cover-up and collusion with corporate entities.
Now you have in San Francisco our Health Department under the precautionary principle that you passed, which says that we don’t wait for science to confirm a threat. If there is a perception of a threat, we are supposed to act, but it seems as if the precautionary principles are thrown to the wind when it came to Bayview Hunters Point.
Minister Christopher Muhammad leads the popular spiritual movement that holds town hall meetings, to which everyone is invited, every Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Grace Tabernacle Community Church, 1121 Oakdale Ave. at Ingalls, just outside the Hunters Point Shipyard, and also leads Nation of Islam Mosque No. 26 at Third Street and Revere in Hunters Point, San Francisco. He can be reached through Brother Miles Muhammad at firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch his testimony in all its passion and that of many other residents and activists at http://sanfrancisco.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=13 and click on 08/07/08. Move the pointer to 4 hours and 35 minutes into the hearing for the agenda items “San Francisco’s Declining African American Population” and “Exceedances at the community airborne asbestos monitoring station HV-9.”