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Gender: Female
Hometown: Bay Area, CA
Member since: Tue Aug 19, 2014, 11:02 PM
Number of posts: 3,732

Journal Archives

Article "In Defense of Looting"

I read this article during the "Berkeley Protests", and I thought it was interesting:

During the Berkeley protests, where the "looting" was penny ante to say the least, there were many aspects to consider:

1) The looters could not be pinned down to a particular "culprit": mixed in with the protesters were provocateurs, anarchists, and people who just wanted to get some free beer.

2) The looters targeted corporate/chain stores over local businesses - the type that tend to exploit people for minimum wage and on-call shifts. This might have only been a phenomenon in an area with a heightened awareness of issues of corporate power, though.

3) The police were playing political games. But, of course they had to, since they couldn't do much enforcement: they had screwed up community relations to the point where they didn't have enough community behind them to safely do their jobs on the street.

4) Property owners got outraged and complained "protesters aren't doing it right" to "get people on their side" as usual. Protesters, in reply, cried back: "where were you before we started breaking your stuff?" Blah, blah, blah.

Anyway, I was fascinated that someone took a shot at philosophically/politically justifying what is normally depicted as mob violence and "thug behavior". If thug is the new "N" word, how do you explain that in Berkeley it was a lot of white people? This is a political practice, and people do start screaming "Diversity of tactics!" when you try to stop them - and in Berkeley some people were injured when they did make a citizen's attempt to stop the vandalism and looting.

In another DU thread a politician is suggesting withholding food stamps from parents who don't stop their children from protesting. Perhaps one way to view vandalism and looting is as the natural response to this genuinely oppressive, downward-pounding political power that is always there for the poor, but rarely so openly placed in plain view.

Eminent Domain and Building a Stock for Affordable Housing Programs

Recently I watched a film about how New York used eminent domain to take over existing housing and hand over areas to big developers. My ears perked up again when I heard how eminent domain had been used in my own area to widen highways, build schools, etc. In all these cases eminent domain caused people to lose their homes.

Why can't eminent domain work the other way around? Why can't the city seize properties that were abandoned or forfeited in the course of criminal investigations and refurbish them as part of their stock for affordable housing programs? As I understand it, these properties usually end up being auctioned off for some pittance: then that money gets used for other purposes, and the property goes to house-flipping speculators.

Where there's a housing crisis, I think cities should crack down on condos being used as random investments, too. If a place just sits there empty for so many years, then I think it can be placed under eminent domain: someone who needs housing should be able to pay a fair price and move in.

What do you think? Is it possible to use eminent domain in a positive way? This also seems a faster way to build affordable housing stock than trying to collect tax money from developers and building affordable housing from scratch.

Cognitive Dissonance of Bringing Communities Together Over Affordable Housing

In recent months the housing crisis in Berkeley has come into sharper focus across the community as people began to realize the massive building developments that the city approved would mainly benefit the wealthy tech workers sloshing over from San Francisco. Slowly it's dawning on people that the developers get "density bonuses" from the State, are enjoying limitless demand at the top of the market, and haven't been accountable for providing "significant community benefits" in return for those windfall profits. Meanwhile, the people that are being rendered homeless by all the property-flipping and the almost non-existing social services system are starting to stack up like logs out on the streets, and the wildly enriched big developers are using every tactic from private police to great walls o' astroturf to political lobbyists to sweep the "human trash" that was created by their activities under their rugs.

The great wave of human tragedy has at last mounted so high that many segments of Berkeley's community agree we must do "something" and are actively organizing to "fight back". Since I've been particularly interested in how the housing crisis has affected the disabled community for several years, I was glad to see the great moment of consciousness raising finally come.

But is it possible for Berkeley to find community over affordable housing?

Traditionally, there has been a fundamental schism between landlords and tenants in Berkeley. The rent board periodically swings between landlord and tenant interests. There are points to be made on both sides. Property in Berkeley is very expensive and property taxes are ridiculously high. The middle class particularly regards property as it's great life investment: they may need to pull money out of their property in times of sickness or retirement. They dream of buying low and selling high. They also have valid complaints about being unable to get rid of nightmare tenants or they see others getting away with raising their rents to market rate. There are also objections to ugly developments ruining community character and amenities, lowering property values, getting in the way of solar energy use, etc.

Tenants, meanwhile, live in a city where housing isn't even affordable to people making a regular "middle class" salary. Most can't even hope to buy property here: foreign consortiums are coming in and paying all cash to speculate on "desirable" properties in Berkeley. Where are people on fixed incomes supposed to go? People on SSI get under $900/month and aren't eligible for food stamps. Berkeley's artist community means that the retired elderly may have gotten irregular formal income all their lives and may be getting very low social security checks. General Assistance welfare is only $336/month. I'm not sure how much TANF is. People who are currently on benefits may be in the process of skills re-training: with proper support they will be future taxpayers. With the constant Torture of the State, they will add to the numbers of homeless on the street and possibly to the criminal element.

There is also an established practice (which I detail further below) of professors at the university paying for their houses by renting to students. This may be the general practice of paying for a house in Berkeley - which amounts to exploiting people who are worse off than you economically to not only get a house, but a hot investment. My landlord paid $250k for his house: he parceled it into 3 rental units to pay the mortgage and provide income - and now he can sell for over a million dollars. Can you blame tenants for being bitter when they see the people who were lucky enough to get their property for free game rent control and otherwise make war on the poorer segments of Berkeley?

Right now these people in the middle-to-low income bracket (which includes people who work for nonprofits, caring professions, and most basic services) are being subjected to remarkable instability as landlords cash in and sell out to speculators and developers. There is nothing new about there complaints: its been hard for poor people to find housing in Berkeley for years. People have started to suggest that it's not unrelated that the black population has dropped from 30% to 7%.

Now that high rise developments are threatening to block the "iconic view" to the bay both property owners and tenants have found common cause in land use issues, and all profess to understand that the lack of affordable housing is a major component of this issue.

But do property owners appreciate the need for affordable housing as a problem they want to solve? Or only in the abstract? Is this cause only common long enough to get the signatures of tenants on petitions led by property owners?

I've been given several causes for cognitive dissonance during several meetings I've attended over the last few weeks. First, it seems like remarks/problems from tenants are cut off with impatience (though blatantly "greedy landlord" pov also gets cut short). When I went to a meeting that was broken down into subgroups, our subgroup was made primarily of tenants: but since the leader was a property-owner, the only ideas he presented on our behalf to the whole meeting were those that pertained to property owners.

At a teach-in today we were exhorted to get active in grassroots door-knocking volunteering for our political representatives. However, my overwhelming experience of political representatives in Berkeley - including the two that attended that meeting - is that they don't even bother to respond to respond to me. I'm a poor tenant: I don't matter to them. My problems have NEVER ONCE been addressed by a Berkeley political "representative". Here I am showing up to back their policies and help with their fights: I just wonder exactly what I have to do to be worth their time, too.

Also, I saw the community "swarm" on a couple of people. The first person got booed down for knocking capitalism and relating affordable housing to communist/socialist societies. She showed up at another meeting with a written version of her opinion: I took one of her flyers. So: community tolerance doesn't extend to outright support of communism. There was another woman who opened with how she wanted the the mayor investigated for corruption: she tried to give some examples about walkways and sewage overflow, but these examples got interspersed with how people had threatened to call the police on her. Half the people in the room physically closed in to pile on her. I don't know this woman's history or if her charges merited any further examination. But one thing really bothered me about this. A few minutes earlier a City Council Member present had talked about how the Mayor had enabled a particular developer to pocket $5 million dollars. I had personally been secretly wondering whether the Mayor was getting anything out of that deal: I'm hoping some journalist investigates the Mayor's investments or whether the developer in question has nomination power for the UC Regents (a group the Mayor wants to join). In other words: the Council Member himself made the situation sound *corrupt*. But when this poor woman brought up corruption, she was surrounded and treated like she was crazy. I bet her question could have been headed off at the pass if one of the Council Members would have treated her with dignity and immediately answered her question instead of letting her ramble on.

Anyway, the vibe I'm getting is that there is still a very firm power hierarchy in Berkeley. Some voices still carry further than others. At community meetings some people get to speak multiple times while others don't get to speak at all. The local media has a specific "rolodex" they turn to. City commission members (who can be "fired" by City Council members) provide a layer of expertise, and I know from personal experience that they only have to adhere to rules of order and listen to community members if there are witnesses present. And then there are the "community organization" efforts mentioned above. At every one I've attended "property owners" had the upper hand, though they were talking *about* affordable housing. Property owners were controlling the discourse, and I'm sure they will be able to shut off the discourse once they've got what they've wanted.

I often advocate that homeless people and people on welfare need "unfiltered" ways to voice their concerns because too many people with interests seek to insert themselves into the conversation and speak "on behalf of those in need". Those in need are capable of speaking for themselves, thank you.

The same thing has to be said about community coalitions that form around affordable housing: there needs to be ways to allow the unfiltered voices of those who need the affordable housing to bubble up. The voices of big property developers, landlords, property owners, City Council Members, etc. are overwhelming loud - and, unfortunately, their interests often vary considerably from the people who need the affordable housing. Space needs to be actively made for the authentic voices: that is the only moral thing to do if you want to create a genuine community alliance and gather all those tenant votes/signatures.

Need a Doctor? This Anti-Poverty Program Will Get You a Lawyer, Too

This article is several months old, but I think it's a great model program.


One contradiction in the system that I see is poor patients particularly need documentation of their situation from doctors so they can prove their eligibility and apply for services. However, doctors who serve poor patients are a) usually triple-booked and don't document much, and b) tend to be helicoptering in from privileged backgrounds to give judgmental lifestyle speeches, so they are slow on the draw for diagnosing anything in the first place.

When there are poverty programs right on the premises there is an opportunity to educate the doctors about the *whole* life situation of their patients and the problems they have to deal with. In the past few months doctors or nurses have just blithely assumed I can buy or "save up" for the following:
1) Over the counter medications and vitamins.
2) Pill splitters
3) Blood pressure monitor
4) Good walking shoes
5) Home blood pressure monitor
6) YMCA pool membership

If I give any pushback about not having a direct cash income, the doctor will Authority'splain to me that I "need" what they want me to buy.

This situation is somewhat baffling to me since my clinic has a strong reputation for working with the impoverished segment of the community - it includes social workers, mental health specialists, and "community health workers". Yet it seems none of these people are giving presentations directly to the doctors. One doctor "explained" to me that I should include vitamins in my social services "budget". Huh? Did people on welfare get a "budget" back in the 60s or something?

I would like someone to explain to these people that my number one concern is stable housing: and if reducing stress would contribute to improving my health, then supporting me in that area would be just peachy. But even that is a vicious cycle: if my health was in the zone, I'd be able to work steadily and housing would no longer be an issue. So what I really need is some security about the medical system working with the social system, and not in ignorance of it (or worst - AGAINST it). If that were the case, I'd probably be haunting the doctor's office and the ER a lot less.

How to Respond to the Kansas "Cruise Ship" Judge Judys

Ever since the 1980s politicians of all stripes have been building their careers on the backs of punishing the poor for laziness, inappropriate spending, general bad character. The collective sins of society find catharsis in the discipline of the poor. Whenever there is a whiff of revolution in the air, politicians distract everyone by yelling, "Hey, look over there - there's a poor person for you to judge!"

What can we do about this before the bar of who the poor and the judged is raised enough to get to YOU?

I have an idea.

Is there an academic or an investigative journalist of good will out there who might be willing to put together a little study that correlates corporate welfare and indirect tax transfers to the rich with what the 1% spends the transferred taxpayers money on?

For instance, instead of just saying that the average taxpayer gives corporations $6000/year in corporate welfare (while giving social services for poor PEOPLE only pennies), could we offer the opportunity for some Judge Judy scrutinizing of whether this money goes into particular pockets...and then how those people spend that money? Perhaps taxpayer money IS going toward lobster and cruises and horse racing...but not for the benefit of people eligible for Assistance for Needy Families but rather for people who could have afforded such luxuries on their own damned earnings - but got graft from taxpayers on top of that.

It seems like people can't resist the urge to judge other people for "getting away with" doing something human: choosing to vary their diets with some treat, attempting some escapism from a horrific state of life (especially if they can't afford a traditional "vacation", or exercising choices about what to buy that might give them a little boost in life (investing in getting nails done at a salon before a job interview). But if the taxpayer rejects subsidizing these things for the poor in their effort to normalize their lives and uplift their condition, then the taxpayer should *all the more* reject subsidizing these same things and more for people who had other options to pay for them.

The 1% should be scrutinized as much as the poor are: follow them with a microscope, subject them to "fraud investigators", set them up as constant examples for public shame for how they spent their tax-payer subsidized gains.

I believe some studies like this are one of the most important things that could be done to help the poor, in terms of shifting the political landscape. Who will step up?

Development Astroturfers to People on Fixed Incomes in Berkeley: "Thanks for Playing! Buh Bye!"

One of the local news venues in Berkeley in plagued by astroturfing trolls that seem to represent big property development interests and the wishes of newly minted tech millionaires to swarm in and seize all "desirable" property. Occasionally regular Berkeley citizens will drop in and try to offer some debate so the place won't just stand as unmitigated propaganda for property speculators, but it is wearisome and ultimately pointless.

For instance, this is the response you get to the idea that the elderly and disabled on fixed incomes are being displaced by market rents far above what they have to work with:

> fixed income renters

The terms of renting are very very clear to any adult. You're in a desirable area. If you get priced out, you move on. Detroit is very cheap and your fixed income is portable. Why is this so hard for you to understand? You knew the terms of the deal when you decided to rent. Thanks for playing! Buh bye! (source here)

Why is it "so hard to understand" that Berkeley is an International center for the Independent Living Movement, and that means there is a large constituency of disabled people here who are long term residents. But being on fixed incomes all their lives, many NEVER had the capital to buy a house! It's the fact they have lived here for decades and have significant ties to the community that makes Berkeley their home.

I have an idea, Mr. Buh bye - why don't YOU move to Detroit! And take your frigging property-flipping troll army with you!

Growing Number of Oakland Seniors are Homeless

The housing crisis spreads from San Francisco to Berkeley to Oakland, and it primarily impacts seniors and the disabled. The standard "fixed income" is under 1k/month - far below market rate for housing in the Bay Area!


I love how this article underscores how homelessness exacerbates health problems and disabilities, which just makes it all the more difficult to climb back out of homelessness. Earlier today another DU person mentioned that the current line of thinking of treatment for PTSD is to stabilize housing first. I would add facing homelessness and attempting to survive homelessness inflicts PTSD in the first place. The current social services infrastructure treats food as basic, but stable housing and a position of normalcy to pivot from is just as basic.

Here is an additional reminder of the 800,000+ people living in poverty in the Bay Area...


...while Mayor Bates of Berkeley builds $6000/month shoebox condos, hoots at black flight, and dances on the graves of those who couldn't hold out long enough for a regime change.

Suspect Arrested in Attack on Homeless Man with Pipe

This brutal random attack on a homeless man in San Francisco was apparently caught on video earlier this week, leading to identification of a suspect.


Video also played an interesting role in a different attack on homeless people in Berkeley last week. In that case, the notorious "Berkeley Ambassadors" accused homeless people of attacking them, and the homeless people were arrested and even plead guilty. Then video surfaced to show that it was the Ambassadors that were the attackers.


That "Ambassador" program, which is funded purely by big business developers to shove homeless people under the rug (instead of doing something to seriously help their situation) has got to go. It should be replaced by programs run by people who work with the homeless community, instead.

Poverty rates near record levels in Bay Area despite hot economy (over 800,000 living in poverty)

Apparently the tech boom is just incapable of "lifting all boats". There are over 800,000 people living in poverty in the Bay Area, on the doorstep of some of the richest (and apparently some of the most oblivious) people in the world.


I believe this is the poverty brief that that the article refers to:

Meanwhile, in Berkeley, landlords continue to fall all over each other to flip their properties in the wildly inflated market and displace tenants into a city with no low or even moderate income housing. The mayor continues to push the development of luxury apartments that only the super-rich can afford: these pied-a-terres will probably sit empty most of the time like similar units in San Francisco. At the same time money meant for low income housing has been held in committee for years in order to force poor people to "decide" to move out of the city. This policy has notably white-polished the city just in the time I've lived here.

I just found out the true depth of the city political establishment's evil this evening. Apparently there is a huge transfer tax that goes to the city every time a property is sold. So it's not that they are indifferent to the housing crisis that has primarily impacted fixed income elderly and disabled people - they have been ACTIVELY ENCOURAGING it to line their coffers with transfer tax bounties!!! They WANT a "hot" property-flipping market rather than the stable one that promotes a sense of stability for renters and protects rent-control properties.
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