Because they hide their activities, our plan has been to expose classist, racist Treasure Island power brokers
by Carol Harvey
Over the last eight years beginning in 2014, the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper has published 76 articles exposing the activities that the Navy and developers on Treasure Island have concealed, compromising the lives of low income, poor and people of color who live on the 404-acre toxic island.
In the interests of total transparency, we are extending an invitation to our readers – that would be you. We want you to attend this July 25th Treasure Island Town Hall meeting by viewing compiled videos of current island resident attendees speaking at the Ship Shape Building on Treasure Island so you can see for yourself what is happening there and their thoughts and feelings about it. Then, we invite you to an Aug. 29 Zoom meeting where we hope Matt Dorsey (Clip 1) will describe his promised plan “to spend a week out here” during the August Board of Supervisors recess “just getting to know everybody and living here (somewhere on Gateview Avenue) without a car.”
You can attend the first town hall meeting here by watching each islander speak on a video clip playlist I created on my YouTube channel, Carolharveysf.
Viewing time is shorter than actual meeting time because presentations are brief and concise. Each speaker’s statement builds on and augments the others. The group speaks with one voice.
The playlist is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmahPqBefwk&list=PLHrKWOo7hlZAy2637AVlwf0i7czStBfbg
A column of numbered video clips will appear on the right side of the screen from which you can pick any individual video clip you choose to view.
The plan from the beginning
The plan from the beginning (1990s) was to bring poor and low income San Franciscans, mostly people of color, to Treasure Island, use their rents to maintain and redevelop the place, and then force them out. Long aware of this hidden agenda, the Bay View first exposed it in two 2018 articles.
The first piece called for a protest of a colossal human rights abuse involving environmental classism and racism. Homeless people were enticed, and sometimes forced, to move to Treasure Island. The public relations purpose was to solve San Francisco’s homeless crisis by getting unhoused people off the streets. However, the story reports, “the actual agenda was to use their subsidized rents to maintain and redevelop the island.” For the same purpose, John Stewart would offer market rate apartments with low rents.
A second article, published on Oct. 31, 2018, was headlined: “What politicians, the Navy and the EPA don’t want you to know.” We reported, referring to former Mayor Willie Brown, “’Da Mayor’ performed amazing sleight-of-hand tricks with the classic victims of environmental injustice – the poor, people of color and unhoused human beings. …
“In 1997, Brown addressed San Francisco’s perennial homelessness problem by ‘disappearing’ at-risk people from city streets into HUD-subsidized housing on newly decommissioned Treasure Island.
“As early as 1997, a July 1 SF Chronicle article announced the intention to house homeless people on Treasure Island. ‘Maceo May, director of housing for Swords to Plowshares, said his organization is proposing 371 housing units for the homeless – 90 on Yerba Buena, the remainder on Treasure Island.’
“Soon, Catholic Charities and Community Housing Partnership became property managers for mostly homeless people of color, expected to ‘fix’ themselves in island drug and mental health programs. …
“‘An interim plan’ was devised ‘to preserve the housing stock, which deteriorates rapidly with lack of use, and (to) provide an income stream.’ Thus, homeless San Franciscans’ HUD subsidies and low income market rate rents would slow Navy townhouse dilapidation.” The John Stewart Co. took over market rate property management for low and middle income renters. These “funds became a war chest for a new eco-village for wealthy condo owners.”
In the late ‘90s, the City began importing new people to the island. A community developed, complete with businesses.
The City became a developer
After the Navy decommissioned Treasure Island in 1997, Willie Brown recognized a money-making opportunity. Da Mayor created TIDA (the Treasure Island Development Authority) as an arm of City government to run island operations. He placed the TIDA board of 11 people under his total control. All board members are mayoral appointees.
Willie created TIDA to be a “development authority” working alongside fellow developers Lennar, Five Point Holdings, The John Stewart Co. – and yes, even the Navy. They would redevelop the island, sell high end condos to the rich, flip the place, take the money and run.
Through his TIDA Board, Willie Brown casually created a community meant to be temporary and expendable. However, because the City continued to need the residents’ rent money, that community has remained on the island for over 20 years.
Now, when residents and businesses no longer serve its purposes, the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF), acting as a developer through TIDA, is attempting to devise ways to get rid of both the residents and the businesses – to shake them loose. Imagine your own City evicting you from the last affordable housing left in the area so they can make money from rich people. (I personally find this reprehensible and inconceivable.)
The Brown Machine shows signs of being on its way out
When we finally – after years – broke through the mainstream media blockade, three articles about Treasure Island and one on Yerba Buena instantly appeared.
Willie Brown created a longstanding news blockade that kept Navy and City malfeasance out of the press. Due to an apparent “hands-off” policy, Chronicle and other city reporters write exposes about Superfund site Hunters Point, but rarely cover Superfund site Treasure Island. As a result, few San Franciscans know that Treasure Island is a bona fide City neighborhood with its own zip code and, more importantly, a strong community. Nor do they know that TIDA and TIMMA (Treasure Island Mobility Management Agency) are violating many state and federal laws during Treasure Island operations daily.
Between 2014 and 2022, the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper has been the only news outlet consistently covering Treasure Island. In that time, we published 76 articles. Breaking the blockade has taken eight years of bone-crunching advocacy, constant writing, and a recent flash of good luck. Former Chronicle columnist Willie Brown, author of the infamously corrupt Brown Machine, was replaced in February 2022. This small act heralds the demise of that machine and Willie’s hold over San Francisco politics, including Treasure Island.
Brown was replaced by an African-American columnist, Justin Phillips, who recognized the significance of this July 25th Treasure Island Town Hall meeting and wrote about it in a column headlined, “‘You’re killing Treasure Island’: Matt Dorsey’s first test could be Treasure Island controversy.”
SFGATE published a superb piece about Yerba Buena Island by former Treasure Island resident Sam Moore: “As Yerba Buena Island’s new residents move in, evicted residents look back.”
Steve Stallone, long-time journalist who attended the town hall meeting, analyzed the situation for Tim Redmond’s on-line publication, 48 Hills: “Treasure Island residents meet Dorsey, demand action on tolls, evictions.”
You’re reading the fourth piece in the past month now in the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper – our 77th story about Treasure Island.
Methods used to shake islanders loose
Working alongside the developers, the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF), using its Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) and its Treasure Island Mobility Management Agency (TIMMA), are employing two key strategies to force middle income, poor and people of color to leave – confusing them and pricing them out.
Eviction lotteries and tolls
Hope Williams (Clip 29) reminded TIDA, “You committed to making sure that every single person has a place to live on this island.” However, TIDA contracted with Associated Right of Way Services (AR/WS), a real estate consulting firm based in Pleasant Hill, which, over the last several years, has created a housing system apparently intended to help residents move from the old townhouses into new units on the redeveloped island. But, the plan is so byzantine and confusing, nobody can understand it.
Under TIDA’S direction, AR/WS has changed the transition housing system many times to one that is patently inequitable and unfair. Paying higher rents for less, residents will be offered units with fewer bedrooms, and without the in-home washers and dryers and green front lawns they enjoy now. Parking spaces will be nonexistent or exorbitantly priced.
Now, when residents and businesses no longer serve its purposes, the City and County of San Francisco (CCSF), acting as a developer through TIDA, is attempting to devise ways to get rid of both the residents and the businesses – to shake them loose.
The final gambit was to spring on residents a sure-fire method of shaking people loose: Surprise lotteries. A woman in a pink blouse (Clip 16) called them “eviction lotteries.” Residents will be eliminated if they refuse an immediate offering.
Paulet Gaines (Clip 28) reported that 26 people on an April 9 webinar thought “we’re supposed to have been in transitional housing,” where “they were supposed to have a place where you actually were supposed to move, correct? That wasn’t the case.
“At the end of the meeting, they said ‘lottery.’ Everybody is bummed.” Paulet was honest, “I am stressed out – overwhelmed.”
“I’ve been online for weeks looking for somewhere, looking for somewhere, looking for somewhere. It is nothing – nothing.”
Count the catch-22s in the next person’s predicament: (Clip 12) A man who earned an income appropriate for Below Market Rate (BMR) housing at the pricey Bristol on Yerba Buena Island was confounded by a rat’s nest of rules. He applied and was accepted, but he was refused financing.
“You say on your application that you want a parking spot, but parking spots cost $115,000.” He is a biker, but, “It is so hard to bike up that hill!” He can’t bike his daughter to the Child Care Center down the steep incline to the Treasure Island flats or haul groceries up to the top. Bottom line: He couldn’t get the housing because he needed a car and he couldn’t spend $115,000 on a parking spot. “That means that I’m going to be kicked out when my time comes.”
TIMMA has created an over-intricate, unnecessary and expensive tolling system described in Clip 2 by Suaney Chough, assistant deputy director at the Transportation Authority, also known as the Treasure Island Mobility Management Agency or TIMMA. Poor, middle income and islanders of color are being levied tolls on and off the island to fund island infrastructure which includes a ferry and an on-island shuttle.
“I have offices here and a shop. We love it.” A toll would negatively impact her business. “Ten dollars a day for five employees – three from the East Bay, two from the South Bay. Fifty dollars a day times five days a week adds up to either $14,000 to $16,000 dollars if we pay that for our employees, an increase of our cost to do business here of 52% to 58%, a big number and not sustainable.”
The rationalization and the method they use to promote the tolls is “congestion pricing.” They argue without proof that tolls will reduce gridlock on the Bay Bridge. Jim McGrath, former BCDC (San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission) commissioner with 45-50 years working on shoreline management, called TIMMA’s Congestion Management plan “a house of cards.”
Even with the subsidies and discounts that Shauney Chough displayed on charts, these tolls will price residents off the island by making multiple car trips too expensive. As Melanie (Clip 26) told Dorsey, “We need everything in San Francisco, man. My son got eight bullets in him. I have to take him to the hospital, back and forth.”
The community is fully aware of what the power brokers are doing, and it is fighting back
TIDA accidentally created a strong, vibrant, intelligent, creative community of residents and businesses. And they are fighting back.
When you attend this town hall meeting, you will see unfolding before your eyes the residents’, business owners’ and recreational visitors’ resistance to this final stage. They refuse to go.
TIMMA called the town hall meeting to showcase for new interim District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey the newest tweaks in their excruciatingly intricate congestion pricing toll system intended to discourage the use of cars. However, as Carlos flatly asserted, he has “a lot of old problems. I need a car. I cannot be on the bus.”
As for the ferry, said Carlos, “It doesn’t go to Oakland” where he apparently has medical appointments. And Mark D. complained, “The ferry service, it still takes hours to get anywhere. It doesn’t connect to anything.”
“Think about all the kids that come out here and play Little League, and the rugby players, and soccer players. They’re not going to pay $10 to get on the island! The businesses out here are going to die! And your social experiment will ruin Treasure Island, OUR ISLAND, that we’ve been here many, many years! And you don’t listen to us. We are going to keep fighting until we see the toll go away!”
Audience: HEAR HEAR! (general audience approval and loud clapping)
Rachel Hiatt interjected, “I need to ask folks to keep their comments and questions to two minutes so that we can get to …” The response was a general loud protest.
Hope Williams (Clip 29) addressed Rachel Hiatt: “You asked the community to show up. We gathered. We advocated. You give every single person that wants the time. Don’t put a time limit on them. You are here to listen to what we’ve been telling you … So, whoever raised their hand, you are going to give them the right and the respect that they deserve to be heard. As it comes, you’re going to listen. So, respect community time.”
“Before you move forward,” declared Hope Williams, “you asked the community to show up. We gathered. We advocated. You give every single person that wants the time. Don’t put a time limit on them. You are here to listen to what we’ve been telling you …. So, whoever raised their hand, you are going to give them the right and the respect that they deserve to be heard. As it comes, you’re going to listen. So, respect community time.”
From this moment, the community took control of the meeting.
You can’t beat 19 years or 20 years or 22 years. These are seasoned residents who’ve lived on the island for an average of two decades.
One after the other, 25 speakers soundly rejected the toll and transition housing programs, loudly condemning the “eviction lotteries.”
On the first video clip, to enthusiastic audience applause, Christophe Oppermann (Clip 10) emphasizes, “Not a single person here or anywhere has ever said, ‘Fantastic. Let’s applaud the toll idea.’ Not a one in five years. Everybody’s opposed to it. Stop it! No toll on TI!”
“This is illegal; we’ll meet you in court,” warned Byron Kaufman. “We are citizens of San Francisco. This is not your new gated enclave for the ultra-wealthy.”
On Clip 29, Hope Williams tells Matt Dorsey, TIDA and TIMMA, and all their functionaries:
“I told you and we continue to tell you: Stop playing with us.
“We tell you what the community say, and you turn around and go behind our back and do something else.
“So, I’m going to try to keep my cool because I should not be here to keep explaining the same thing that the community is saying.
“This community is a powerful community. Look at every single one of their faces.
“We will mobilize at City Hall if we have to because I know all of them. I know every single supervisor, and I will have conversations with every single supervisor with my child in hand.
“They are all going to testify. Do not play with this community!
“We are telling you that we are sick and tired of being second hand students!
“You are setting up these systems around housing … You’ve heard from generations. These are our second generations, more multiple generations of babies. They have been here for over 20-some years. This is the Voice. This is your next voters that’s going to decide whether you stay or not.
“I’m not playing any more. We’re sick and tired of not having the resources. We’re sick and tired of brown water. We’re sick and tired of raggedy buildings. We’re sick and tired of cancer. We’re sick and tired of termites.
“And then you have the audacity to set up a lottery system when you committed to making sure that every single person – every single person – has a place to live on this island!”
Byron Kaufman, Treasure Island resident who endured eviction from Yerba Buena Island in 2015, announced firmly, “This is illegal; we’ll meet you in court. We are citizens of San Francisco. This is not your new gated enclave for the ultra-wealthy.
“You go home and decide who you work for because let me guarantee you we will stop you in the court because this is illegal. We will stop you in the court of public opinion because it’s immoral and goes against the ethics and good practice of any city in the United States, much less California, much less San Francisco.
“And the evictions that are going to proceed – guess what! We’ll meet you in court there, too.
“We will take it apart. And even if you remove every single one of us, the people who come to live here – they’re going to take you apart, too. And, they’ve got a ton more resources than we do.
“So, get your stuff together. End the toll.”
An islander who wants to remain anonymous emailed, “People are really fed up, and we’re very vocal. Honestly I think the reason is, all of the people (at Supervisor Matt Haney’s town hall meeting three years ago) still believed they were guaranteed housing. This time (at Supervisor Matt Dorsey’s town hall meeting) they’ve been told they’ll be put in a lottery, and everybody knows they are getting screwed.”
Carol Harvey is a San Francisco political journalist specializing in human rights and civil rights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.