Bay Guardian: Editor’s Notes, 09.08.09

It’s time for a new Community Congress

09.08.09  | Tim Redmond |

Every poor and working class community in San Francisco has learned the hard way that its interests are at the bottom of the list as far as City Hall is concerned. At the top of the list are the banks, real estate interests, and large corporations, who view San Francisco not as a place for people to live and work and raise families, but as a corporate headquarters city and playground for corporate executives. By using their vast financial resources, they have been able to persuade local government officials that office buildings, hotels, and luxury apartments are more important than blue-collar industry, low-cost housing and decent public services and facilities.

Sound familiar?

It’s more than 30 years old.

Back in 1974, more than 50 San Francisco community groups — from Bay Area Gay Liberation to the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center, from the Federation of Ingleside Neigbhors to the San Quentin Six Defense Committee, from the Golden Gate Business and Civic Women’s Association to the Socialist Coalition — started meeting to develop a plan to take back the city.

It culminated with a Community Congress, on June 8, 1975, at Lone Mountain College (now part of the University of San Francisco). More than 1,000 people attended, and they drafted a remarkable 40-page document that outlined an alternative political, economic, social, and environmental agenda for San Francisco. The movement led, among other things, to the advent of district elections of supervisors (a key element in the platform) and the rise of active community-based organizations in this city.

Calvin Welch and Rene Cazenave, the veteran activists who run the San Francisco Information Clearinghouse, were among the organizers. They found the old manifesto recently and sent it out to a few of us by e-mail. I’ve posted it on the Politics blog. It calls for rent control, a sunshine ordinance, a health commission, full-time supervisors (who were to be paid $20,000 a year, the equivalent of $86,000 today), cable-TV coverage of the supervisors meetings, a mandate that developers build affordable housing and a feasibility study on public power. In fact, much of what the left has achieved in San Francisco in the past three decades is outlined in the Community Congress document.

(The congress also called for decriminalization of victimless crimes, including public inebriation, a guaranteed annual income, the abolition of the criminal grand jury, and some other things that didn’t quite come to pass.)

I mention this not only because it’s a fascinating historical document but because Welch and Cazenave think it’s time for a new Community Congress. Their draft agenda refers to a New Deal for San Francisco, and they’re talking about holding a series of meetings culminating in a major session sometime next year.

It’s tough to get the San Francisco left to come together on issues, even harder to build a broad-based organization that can push an agenda. Sup. Chris Daly tried several years ago, but the San Francisco People’s Organization never got the traction many of us had hoped for.

But although the progressives have accomplished a tremendous amount in this city, and have come a long way since 1975, the need is still there.

“San Francisco’s downtown corporate and banking interests and their representatives in city government are attempting at a local level to shift the burden of the current economic and political crisis ever more fully onto the backs of the poor and working people of San Francisco.”

That was then. Today, Welch and Cazenave write, “San Francisco stands at a crucial junction brought about by the collapse of the real estate based speculative bubble and the related steep reduction of city revenue resulting in cuts in funding important programs and services …

There needs to be a general coming together of community groups to articulate a set of policies able to be implemented at the local level which seek to maximize community control over the provision of critically needed health and human services and beneficial community development and to maintain a vital public sector.”

Sounds like a plan. *

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