Friday, January 27, 2012

Gary Virginia: Castro's Wiener
Must Post 2012 Meeting Schedule

(Gary Virginia on his phone. Credit: Bill Wilson.)

This past Monday, I attended the Land Use Committee hearing at City Hall regarding pending legislation related the public plazas in the Castro neighborhood. This was the first meeting where all interested parties were in the same room with Scott Wiener and everyone was allowed a chance to speak on the legislation.

Several speakers complained that Wiener held no meetings of his own, and that he appeared only before civic groups friendly to his agenda. At the end of the hearing, Wiener said he had appeared at neighborhood meetings, which is true but what he omitted is that some of those meetings were for members-only, or held at 9:00 am when lots of working folks couldn't attend, and not publicized.

My old friend Gary Virginia, a longtime Castro voter and indefatigable LGBT and AIDS community organizer and fundraiser, and an incredibly sweet guy, penned this essay rebutting Wiener's bogus claim that he did sufficient outreach before introducing his plaza proposal. I've been granted permission to share the essay here.

Virgnia's basic idea, that Wiener set and publish a schedule of when he'll hold his own open meetings in the district, should immediately be adopted by the supervisor. If Wiener were to heed Virginia's advice, such meetings would go a long way toward cooling the scorching divisions that diminish the Castro's vibrancy. Who could object to the supervisor expanding the number of constituents he hears from and bringing transparency to his style of leadership?

Here's Virginia's opinion column:

I see a continuing problem with local politics in District 8 (Castro, Noe Valley, Glen Park.) Supervisor Scott Wiener is following closely in the footsteps of his predecessor by not hosting community meetings but claiming he “has worked with stake holders” when voting and acting on issues of concern to all constituents.

The latest issue in this line of selective input, is Wiener’s justification for proposed legislation for Jane Warner and Harvey Milk plazas. A capacity crowd at the Jan. 23 Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee met to discuss his proposed legislation which has now been amended at least twice (one item changed due to input by the ACLU).

Excerpted from a online petition that was submitted at the meeting:

“We oppose Supervisor Scott Wiener's proposed regulations for Harvey Milk and Jane Warner plazas in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood. There was no community process in coming up with these regulations. In fact, a local community group, QUEEN (Queers for Economic Equality Now) had proposed a community task force to address any concerns people had with the plazas and develop ways to make them welcoming to all people, including the homeless. That proposal was rejected by Castro Benefits District (CBD), a neighborhood group funded by the city, and Scott Wiener.

“Jane Warner, for whom the one plaza is named, cared a lot about homeless queer youth. As a Patrol Special officer, she worked tirelessly with homeless advocates in the neighborhood when they set up three separate homeless LGBT youth shelters in the late 90s.

“The plaza named after Harvey Milk, another fierce advocate for queer youth, has become a symbol worldwide of the freedom that LGBT people have been fighting for these past five decades. It has always been a place where all people can gather, rally, have fun, sit, cruise, give out literature, sell pamphlets, and generally enjoy public space. Putting unnecessary restrictions on our public space is not in keeping with the spirit of Harvey Milk or the LGBT community.”

The majority of public comments at the Jan. 23 hearing opposed the legislation including speakers from Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC), Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, Community United Against Violence, Homes Not Jails, QUEEN, Gays Without Borders/SF, Coalition on Homelessness, Pride at Work, Homeless Advocates for Youth, Gubbio Project (a daytime program for homeless people at Saint Boniface Church in the Tenderloin), as well as personal friends of Harvey Milk and Officer Jane Warner. Unfortunately, the legislation was passed out of committee (Sup. Carmen Chu & Scott Wiener in favor; Committee Chair Eric Mar opposed) so the legislation will be heard by the full Board on January 31.

Wiener prides himself on having worked with “stake holders” but this has been limited to business and residential neighborhood associations and the paid-for CBD. When you look at the neighborhood association memberships, many of the same people and officers belong to multiple associations, and the presidents and officers are skewed to million-dollar homeowners. Likewise, I doubt there are any LGBT youth, homeless, or vulnerable populations represented in the Merchants of Upper Market & Castro (MUMC) or CBD groups.

I have volunteered and donated thousands of hours of my time to MUMC, CBD, Castro After Dark (bar guild), Castro Farmers’ Market, and many activist, charitable, and neighborhood causes so I know from where I speak. Many issues are not black or white, but open dialogue results in the best solutions.

I also have personal friends who have been affected by the ill-conceived Care Not Cash program, the Sit/Lie ordinance, TIC and Ellis Act evictions and gentrification. One friend who came out at 52 years of age lost his life savings and has been living out of his car for two years. My former roommate who will be 80 this year got evicted due to a TIC sale 14 years ago and she’s been homeless since. Other friends who could not beat crystal meth

Victims of the economy, domestic violence, or homophobia often seek refuge in San Francisco due to our long-standing values of compassion and care. For LGBT folks, the Castro is perceived to be a beacon of hope, tolerance and often a last resort for help. To continually criminalize people and force them into a cycle of homelessness is not humane nor economically savvy for our city’s shrinking budget.

Here’s my challenge to Sup. Wiener: publish a 2012 schedule now (rotating days and times) for monthly community meetings in your district. Have the first item on the agenda be for public comment. Publish the minutes online. Simple, transparent, democratic.

The charade of “I have met with stake holders” is over. Many of your constituents don’t want to, or are unable to, join a neighborhood or merchant association. I have been a witness to how many of these groups control the agenda, and prearrange strategy, speakers and data to skew outcomes. They do not speak for me, nor your most vulnerable constituents. You were elected to represent the interests of ALL people who live, work, play or spend time in the Castro ... not just merchants, contracted benefit districts, and neighborhood associations.

There’s a reason a Facebook group was created named “Recall Scott Wiener Now!” As with the Occupy movement, average people are fed up with the “haves” controlling the destiny of the “have nots.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hear hear!

Thank you for this public service, Michael.

The word "stakeholders" should be a red flag to anyone who cares about truly inclusive and truly democratic process.