Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A decade of visions, victories, follies and fun

Despite working intensively on the Prop. 34 campaign for the last year, I did actually read and think about a few books during that long season. What I didn't have was the mental and emotional energy to comment on them here. But look out: I'm about to make up for that omission while I continue to digest the lessons of the campaign.

Ten Years that Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978, an anthology by several dozen authors, worked exceptionally well for reading when exhausted; it's a multifaceted story of our fascinating city broken into bite size chunks. I lived San Francisco's Seventies so much of the terrain was familiar. It's easy to be nostalgic about a time of such energy, invention and sense that we could build the world anew -- or maybe my friends and I were just naive. But living was cheap and innovation abounded. There was much that seems ugly in retrospect: the People's Temple role in the city culminating in mass murder/suicide in particular. But the novel notion of gay freedom took center stage (and many of us needed all the liberation we could get!), the Mission wrestled with its Latin identity and many people experimented with alternative ways of making a living besides working for "the man."

And there are accomplishments that continue to set the tone of the city. I've written elsewhere about how San Bruno Mountain was preserved as open space because of some crazy environmentalists of that time. But this, from political activist Calvin Welch just floored me. Pretty much of anyone middle class and poorer who remains in San Francisco owes their ability to stay to the struggles of that era.

The existence of the community housing movement by 1977 would so influence the district-elected Board of Supervisors that in 1979 they passed San Francisco's Rent Stabilization and Arbitration ordinance, which by 2008 covered some 170,000 rental units. By 2008 an additional nearly 2,000 units of inclusionary housing (permanently affordable units) have been developed, also as a result of the advocacy of the community-based housing movement.

These 198,000 units of price-controlled housing constitute some 54% of San Francisco's entire housing stock. No such permanently "price-protected" housing existed in 1968 outside of the relative handful of public housing units which made up less than 1% of the housing stock. Over half of the City's housing remains within reach for most of its residents solely because of the struggles, events, victories, and setbacks of the decade of community organizing between 1968 and 1978.

Take that Downtown financial barons! We still believe and struggle for a city that should belong to its working people, not just socialites and financiers.

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