Cleaning up poor people

Secretive agenda behind Clean Up The Plaza threatens one of San Francisco's last low-income neighborhoods

Jack Davis, pictured with Gil Chavez (left), wasn’t happy with the Guardian for asking tough questions about Clean Up The Plaza.
Guardian photo by Steven T. Jones

San Francisco has a long history of campaigns to "clean up" its poor neighborhoods, which is often code for displacing low-income residents of color and replacing them with gentrified housing and businesses. It happened in Western Addition and Yerba Buena starting about 50 years ago, and it's happening now in the mid-Market Street corridor and in the heart of the Mission District.

Clean Up The Plaza is the latest group to decry poor people with bad habits congregating in public places, in this case the 16th and Mission BART plaza. Last summer, it launched a campaign with mailers and window placards that echo its lobbying of city officials to get tough on drug dealing, public urination, robberies, and other crimes.

With more homeless and other people showing up on the street in the Mission District these days, partly because of the increased policing along mid-Market since Twitter and other tech firms moved there in recent years, there are legitimate crime and quality-of-life concerns there, as the district's Sup. David Campos acknowledges and has been taking steps to address.

"But there's a difference between focusing on violent crime, as we have on 16th, and criminalizing poor people," Campos told us. "What we haven't done is kick poor people out of the plaza or removed benches or anything like that."



There is more to Clean Up The Plaza than meets the eye, thanks to the secretive involvement of notorious developer-connected political consultant Jack Davis, whose support the Bay Guardian exposed last week. The group's figurehead, political neophyte Gil Chavez, lives in Davis' house in the neighborhood and has told Bay Guardian sources that he and others are being well-paid by Davis.

Asked by the Guardian whether he is being paid by the developers — Maximus Real Estate Partners, which has proposed building a 10-story, 351-unit housing project that would tower over the plaza — Davis told us, "That's between me and the IRS."

Actually, the Ethics Commission confirmed that it is also looking into the group's activities given that it hasn't filed any paperwork in association with political fundraising or its lobbying. Davis denies that the group is in violation of any disclosure laws, and referred questions to high-priced attorney James Perrinello, who hasn't returned our calls.

Local activists have long suspected this is simply a front group financed by developers to lay the political groundwork for approving the controversial project.

"I wasn't surprised. I always knew there was some big money behind this," Laura Guzman, who heads homeless outreach and services for Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, told the Guardian. "This is clearly about displacement. It invoked to me that my guys are in danger."

"The minute I saw those placards and the flyers with the 'clean up' rhetoric, I got nervous because anyone who's lived in this town for any length of time and paid attention knows exactly what those things mean. The clean up rhetoric almost always means, 'let's remove these people,'" said Cleve Jones, a progressive activist who has worked on housing rights issues since the '70s, when he was a legislative aide to the Sup. Harvey Milk. "What people don't understand is how completely this is driven by developers, and when you look at who benefits, it's always the developers...The power of the developers here is enormous and the profits are enormous."

Housing Right Committee Executive Director Sara Shortt calls Clean Up The Plaza "a fake grassroots campaign that is misleading this community."


Let's see the proof from Campos that he's long been working on addressing the lack of social services at the plaza and getting cops to hang out there.

He also says he's been working on the 24 bed homeless homo shelter on South Van Ness for three years, and no opening date is set for it to start accepting folks in need.

If Campos has done anything more than waste hot air regarding the plaza, there should be some evidence of his work.

So, how are things going for his proposal to rename SFO for Harvey Milk? Now that is thing we can find evidence where Campos has put his energy.

Posted by MPetrelis on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 8:03 am

Here it is mid March and still no presser with Campos and the Tamale Lady, as promised back in December. This may be the only proof of Campos doing something - anything - near the plaza:

The Tamale Lady finds a home
12.30.13 - 3:22 pm | Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez |

The Tamale Lady, aka Virginia Ramos, finally has a restaurant to call her own (for real this time).

Mission Local reported today that Supervisor David Campos has secured a storefront for the Mission's favorite bar-hopping foor purveyor, a location at 16th and Mission.

Sup. Campos' aide Nate Albee confrimed the move with Mission Local:

“It will be her very own place,” Albee says. “We pulled out all the stops, and it took six months, but we found a place.”

Campos told us about the 16th and Mission location in a text message last week, which Albee says was going to be a secret until they signed the lease and had a press conference likely in January. “He was not supposed to tell anyone that,” Albee sighed. “Oh, David.”

Posted by MPetrelis on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 8:08 am

And where did Campos hold his kickoff campaign event last year, announcing his assembly race? Too bad he didn't hold the event at the 16th Street BART plaza to show off his hard work with social service workers there and the expanded police presence because of his efforts!!

Surrounded by kids, David Campos files to run for State Assembly
08.01.13 - 1:52 pm | Rebecca Bowe |

Sup. David Campos met with parents and youth at the 24th Street BART station before filing papers to run for Assembly.

On the morning of Aug. 1, San Francisco District 9 Sup. David Campos joined a group of parents and kids at the 24th Street BART station, climbed aboard the 49-Mission/Van Ness, and rode to City Hall, where he filed paperwork to run for the California Assembly.

“Running for office is not an easy thing. It’s a very personal decision,” he said. “And thinking about it, I am where I am because I was given a lot of opportunity as a kid coming in, as an undocumented kid. It was the opportunity of getting a quality education, the opportunity to really get a degree," and to stay motivated by the idea that “if you really work hard and play by the rules, that you can really fulfill your potential.”

Posted by MPetrelis on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 8:13 am

Someone should tell Joe that the restaurant has yet to open, for real!!

The Tamale Lady, aka Virginia Ramos, finally has a restaurant to call her own (for real this time).

Posted by MPetrelis on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 8:32 am

"Clean Up The Plaza ... launched a campaign with mailers and window placards that echo its lobbying of city officials to get tough on drug dealing, public urination, robberies, and other crimes."

What's wrong with this?

This is NOT a campaign against poor people. This is a campaign FOR ALL people in the neighborhood and in the city.

How condescending of SFBG to assume that the people of the Mission are okay with drug dealing, public urination, robberies and other crimes. We aren't.

Posted by Missy District on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

Since when are LGBT outsiders and middle class people in the Castro mutually exclusive sets?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 7:50 pm

Steven, I'd like to point out that only a few days ago you posted that the problems at 16th and Mission had improved, yet now you say, in this article, that things there have gotten worse due to mid-Market changes. Which is it?

While I think that the SFBG's discovery of Jack Davis's involvement in the clean up the plaza campaign is a legitimate story and good journalism, your effort to rally people under the flag of anti-gentrification by bemoaning the displacement of homeless people in the plaza is a waste of time. New condos at 16th and Mission may very well lead to higher rents in the surrounding area, but you'll lose potential support for scuttling this project from some Mission residents if you insist on making the homeless your poster children.

The reason hundreds of homeless people "visit" the plaza every day is so they can score drugs. Everyone's sick of these guys. It's not that people don't have compassion for alcoholics and junkies, but how do you help someone who absolutely refuses to help themselves? How many AA meetings in San Francisco everyday, most with free coffee and cookies? And these guys are wasting their lives shooting up above the Bart station. The non-profits might mean well, but they are seriously deluded to think that maintaining the biggest open-air heroin market in the city is helping anyone.

I've painted with a broad brush here, and I'm sure there are some for whom this description doesn't apply, but, for the majority, it does. I've lived here for 15 years and 16th and Mission has always been a shit-hole. There has been plenty of time to do something about the situation, but nothing has been accomplished; not even the tiniest little bit of progress has been achieved. People are tired of excuses and empty promises.

Progressives would have a better chance of nixing the condos if they had allowed the Plaza to be cleaned up years ago. Now some developer is going to do it instead. And those guys always make sure they get paid for their efforts.

Posted by Snoozers on Mar. 19, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

The death of progressivism is the exclusive focus on the issues of "the most vulnerable" to the exclusion of addressing the needs of enough people to comprise a viable political coalition.

Poor people are not shit, their locales are not shit holes. They shit on Capp Street, not on BART plaza and will continue to do so even if the condos get built. Appeals to the ephemeral liberal white guilt of the precariat will fall flat.

The safety net of the New Deal has been dismantled by the Democratic Party hierarchy to which these nonprofiteers are beholden. That means that everyone is scrambling to do what it takes to not retire in a refrigerator box eating cat food under a freeway ramp.

Ain't nothing greedy about that. What is greedy is holding onto a journalistic or activist/advocate job granted at the pleasure of the neoliberals so long as one does their bidding or gets out of the way of that.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 6:18 am

never really took hold. Other than a one-time reaction to district elections around year 2000, it has always been a minority position in SF. That trend will continue as SF's demographics irreversibly change to favor moderate, centrist politics.

Wiener is the future; not Avalos who is starting to look very dated and out of touch.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 8:12 am

A conservative member of the conservative Lee/Wiener Cult has spoken.

The topic of the Homily today is: False Pretenses. People pretending to be something they're not to deceive the masses. In this case, conservatives and their savior politicians pretending to be "moderates" when they're disguise their conservative agenda.

In this instance, the Wienerbot has dutifully spoken of their conservative savior Saint Wiener. At this time in our liturgy, may we stand to say The Nicene Creed:

"We Believe In Two Gods, Saint Wiener and Saint Lee..."

The congregation knows the rest.

The organ voluntary today will be the Final from Widor's Organ Symphony No. 2 played by the Artist-in-Residence.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

SenateWhore FineSwine was the first GOP to fly false colors; she would say anything for a vote, then do what she and her rich pals wanted. (Pelosi continues that tradition.) She started the "Manhattenization" of SF which lead to a horrorshow of Conspicous Consumption, and made herself a billionaire in the process. We are in many ways similar to Stalinist Soviet One Party Kill the Mensheviks system, which led us to this mess. SF is like an old growth forest that was clearcut, then replanted with fast growing pines ... it is not the same thing. The reduction in emergency services (the Presidio and TI was our back up plan, our evacuation plan), while putting up more buildings that are built cheaply ... let's remember recent "disasters" where the actual damage was caused by putting up too many buildings, putting too many people in them, and it's the COLLAPSE OF THE STRUCTURES that causes the casualties. Why is it the "solution" to our problems is to tear down what is already here, put up cheap, ugly crapboxes with "retail centers" in place of actual jobs that paid living wages? Well, enjoy, carpetbaggers, Mother Nature bats last, and the ocean rise means those waterfront condos are going to be worthless in a decade or so.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 25, 2014 @ 11:37 am

Who said poor people are shit? 16th and Mission is a shit-hole because it's the spot most of SF's junkies go to cop dope. No one's buying this Tom Joad schtick anymore.

Posted by Snoozers on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 12:13 pm

I hate to say it, but I've moved on - and many of my friends have too. I'm one those San Franciscans who came to the city in the 90's. Most of us were spunky young Gen-X'rs who were making the choice between Seattle and San Francisco. I was happy to live in SF and remember when the mission and the castro were very welcoming to young kids w/o much money.

Boy have times changed.

I would say my friends have done one of two things. 1) Headed to the East Bay. Oakland, Concord, Richmond, Alameda, and El Cerrito are still affordable. or 2) Gone even further. People are moving to L.A. or to back to the Midwest.

People are leaving because the cost of living is forcing them out. I went back to the Midwest, where the cost of 3 bedroom house is about the same as a good used car.

Posted by SFEXPAT on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 4:28 am

I did not have to move anywhere! I became a real estate speculator and made big bucks! I have a great paid for place in the mission and 5 other (non-rent controlled) properties that pay big cash every month! Thank God for gentrification !

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 3:04 pm

But if you cannot then, sure, move. That's logical, and Oakland is much cheaper and just a few miles away.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

Who cares? I'm sick of the stupid leftists who have made SF into a stinking bum and addict infested toilet.... CLEAN UP THE WHOLE CITY ! Thank God for gentrification !

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 2:59 pm

Wouldn't you have always been happier in Walnut Creek or Mayberry? Some people just don't have the intelligence to move to the "utopia" they desire. Gentrification is only going to go so far in turning this city into your utopia of Walnut Creek or Mayberry. And even Mayberry had Otis the drunk and homeless people and Ernest T Bass.

There are only so many wealthy people and the economy has stalled (what fool didn't know that already?):

The economy has stalled

And in my area, the condos for the wealthy having been built are not selling very quickly at all now. They are just sitting there with "Selling Now" signs on them. Even the expensive new rental building near me (where the rental Luxury Designer Condos go for over $4,000+/month) are still "Now Leasing" with an even larger sign up as of recently, and that building has been opened for months and it's still "Now Leasing." So despite this so-called desperate need for housing---when it's AFFORDABLE housing we have a desperate need for---the new hou$ing for the bourgeois elite/wealthy is not filling up as fast or at all as it was planned/touted that it would from what I'm seeing. I'm also seeing more and more homes going up for sale around my area and they are not selling or even Pending.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

The same for the Avenues. I went through today and where I was I saw at least 1-2 homes per block for sale.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

Progressives sure sound like tools of the oil industry these days. Still embracing suburbanism like it's 1973. The 70's are over. People want to live near their jobs. As a society we can't afford to preserve our nation's mid-cities as enclaves for the destitute and jobless. Revitalization, errr gentrification, is as inevitable as the price of gas going up and the exhaustion of the capactity of our freeways. But don't cry. The suburbs aren't so bad, especially if you don't have anywhere to be at any particular time.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 20, 2014 @ 9:27 pm

Yes, people want to live near their jobs, and most jobs in this city are held by people who can't afford new market-rate condos (median income here is $73,000/year, meaning half the citizens make less than that). But we're building housing for people who work down in the Silicon Valley. That doesn't make sense, except in a plutocracy. If you were really concerned about the oil industry, sprawl, and freeway congestion -- rather than, say, just being a douchey troll -- then you'd be supporting the progressives in this struggle.

Posted by steven on Mar. 21, 2014 @ 10:33 am

Yes, 100,000 SF'ers commute out of town, many to tech jobs in the south bay.

But 500,000 commute into SF every day. So SF clearly has too little housing and the suburbs bail us out.

So either SF needs to build more homes or the burbs need to build more BART lines.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 21, 2014 @ 10:47 am

Would not you feel better in a place you can afford? I have been an owner in the Mission for 33 years and I like it way better after they tore down the monstrosity of failed socialism, the horrible Valencia Gardens and the area got much better. Subsidized housing breeds crime and decay…. FACT

Posted by Guest on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

I agree with sfextpat I myself have moved out to Oakland then back to the Midwest where the cost of living was far less and I now get more bang for my buck.

However I do miss sf and hope to return some day!

Posted by Smoky on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

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