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Pigeon Palace, My Home, but for how long?

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Hi friends, neighbors, readers,
My home of almost 12 years in the Mission has been put on the market. The sellers seem intent on getting to an auction where the richest bidder will get our building. This in spite of the fact that we have organized ourselves into a nonprofit ready to assume control over the building through the aegis of the San Francisco Community Land Trust (SFCLT). The SFCLT has put a hefty offer on the table as of over 10 days ago, but the Conservator, Tom Lucas, and his lawyers working on behalf of trustee Patricia Gustafson, have spurned our proposals and insist on trying to wrest maximum money from this, in clear opposition to the stated wishes of the landlady, Frances Carati, who maintained this lovely old Victorian as an affordable home for all of us for years. I am taking advantage of my blog here to post several documents below as an online resource beyond our current reliance on a Facebook page (what a disaster that so many people use Facebook for so much of their online communications! but one we can hardly buck at this point, certainly not alone).

Pigeon Manifesto

Friends and neighbors,

We are Adriana Camarena & Chris Carlsson, Carin McKay, Ed Wolf & Kirk Read, Keith Hennessy. We are long-term Mission residents: artists, activists, health care workers, and micro business owners, engaged in local queer and activist cultures for 10, 20, 30, and 40 years. Our six-unit building is called the Pigeon Palace, after the hearty rule-defying birds loved by our dear landlord Frances Carati. But oh shit! Our home is for sale! And the vultures are circling. If we get evicted, we lose not only our home, we lose our city. Like most of you, none of us can afford anything close to market rate housing in San Francisco. That is why we, the pigeons, are fighting back!

With the Mayor’s help, The San Francisco Community Land Trust is trying to buy the building to prevent our displacement and provide affordable housing forever. But the people entrusted to manage the sale seem hostile to the idea of tenant ownership and instead are seeking to maximize profits, thus defying the long-stated wishes of the owner.

We need to protect affordable housing for low-income people and support initiatives to generate more options that are way below market rate. Public ownership and collective ownership are necessary to fight the dictatorship of capitalist profit and the trance of private property. Another world is possible. We need to re-imagine and insist upon alternative economic models that would keep working class people, Latino families, queer families, artists and activists, teachers, nurses, and non-profit workers in the Mission. The exodus to Oakland and further points east has already heightened the gentrification crisis in the East Bay.

We call on friends, neighbors, and the City to help save our homes, to transform the Pigeon Palace into a community land trust, with affordable housing forever.

Thank you.

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What is the Pigeon Palace?

The Pigeon Palace is a non-profit organization founded by the tenants at 2840-2848 Folsom St, in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. Our goal is to further our landlord’s decades-long practice of providing affordable housing to low-income people; in her words, “refusing to choke anybody.” Our landlord Frances was a fan of pigeons. She scoffed at people who considered themselves better than these resourceful birds and she often pointed out the pigeons’ ability to survive hatred, violence and almost any effort to limit their free movement. We are determined to stay in the building at a cost that doesn’t choke anybody. We have been working the San Francisco Community Land Trust to buy our building. If they buy the building, 6 units of affordable housing will be saved forever.

What is SFCLT, the SF Community Land Trust?

The mission of SFCLT is to create permanently affordable, resident-controlled housing for low- to moderate-income people in San Francisco through community ownership of the land. They do this by acquiring apartment buildings at risk of eviction and convert them into resident-owned cooperatives. Currently SFCLT has five properties in its portfolio and is rapidly expanding. When a privately owned building is transformed into a community land trust, the building is pulled out of the capitalist market and can no longer be sold or rented for profit, nor participate in the profit speculation that drives gentrification, displacement, and eviction. More info at: www.sfclt.org

 

Kissing-Birds-Pigeonseviction zone sign__2150Our neighborhood is at the epicenter of a wave of evictions. We are fairly capable folks, able to broadcast our plight and seek support far and wide, but most of the evictions are happening to people who have few if any resources. We stand with our neighbors and friends who have endured this tidal wave of displacement. We refuse to go quietly. If we cannot establish a Land Trust at this building we are determined to put up a fierce resistance to anyone who tries to evict us from the City we’ve lived and worked in, making enormous cultural and political contributions to, for well over a 100 years combined.

Here are the capsule biographies of Pigeon Palace residents:

The Pigeon Palace tenants have lived and worked at the frontlines of AIDS services, art and culture, and neighborhood activism for 10, 20, 30, and 40 years. Well established in San Francisco, they are innovators, protectors, and ambassadors of San Francisco Values. Each and all would have already been displaced, evicted from the city they have helped to nurture and inspire, had they not been the beneficiaries of below market value rent. We invite you to read their brief bios and to note the many projects and activities that would never have been possible had these tenants had to pay “normal” rents or had been forced out of the city. The affordable rents they’ve enjoyed at the Pigeon Palace are precisely what made possible this remarkable range of social, cultural, and political activities that have enriched San Francisco for decades.

Ed Wolf

Ed Wolf moved to San Francisco in 1976. He attended San Francisco State University to begin work on his MFA when the AIDS epidemic arrived in the city. He’s been working continuously in the HIV/AIDS field since 1983, as chronicled in the award-winning documentary “We Were Here”. He’s worked for numerous non-profit organizations in the city, including The Shanti Project (where he worked on the AIDS unit as San Francisco General Hospital), as well as the Metropolitan Community Church, California Pacific Medical Center, and the UCSF AIDS Health Project, among others. Ed has a strong network of comrades and colleagues who survived the AIDS epidemic here in the city. In the last 5 years he has had 5 major knee operations, the last two involving total knee replacements. His ongoing progress is being provided by several doctors here in the city.

 

Adriana Camarena

Since moving to the Mission District of San Francisco in 2008, writer, researcher, and activist, Adriana Camarena has been documenting the stories of the Mission District’s traditional residents: migrants, homies, mammas, homeless, and radicals to name a few. Her project, Unsettlers:Migrants, Homies, and Mammas in the Mission District of San Francisco, relies on a number of storytelling media to collect the narratives of Mission community residents and the sense of place of this former working class and rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Her stories connect past and ongoing histories of forced displacement, policing, violence, and resistance of the Mission District. In the process of collecting these stories, the storyteller transformed into a neighbor and community organizer, scathed by the same violences experienced by her storytellers. In 2014, Camarena became a community advocate against police brutality by working closely with the Nieto Family, whose son Alex Nieto, was unjustifably killed by SFPD on Bernal Heights. Less than a year later, on February 26th, SFPD unjustifiably gunned down a 21-year-old Guatemalan immigrant—Amilcar Perez Lopez—across the street from the Pigeon Palace. Camarena is part of the block support group who together claim justice for Amilcar.

 

Chris Carlsson

Chris Carlsson, co-director of the “history from below” project Shaping San Francisco, is a writer, publisher, editor, and frequent public speaker. Carlsson moved to San Francisco in 1978 after growing up in the East Bay, and took up residence in the Mission District in 1987. Since early 2004 he has lived in the Pigeon Palace. Carlsson was one of the founders in 1981 of the seminal and infamous underground San Francisco magazine Processed World. In 1992 Carlsson was one of the co-founders of Critical Mass in San Francisco, which not only led to the boom in bicycling locally but spread across the planet and has been the incubator for transformative urban movements in hundreds of cities, large and small, worldwide. In 1995 Carlsson and his colleagues began work on “Shaping San Francisco”. In the 20 years since then Shaping San Francisco has grown into a multi-faceted project consisting of an incomparable archive of San Francisco history at Foundsf.org, award-winning bicycle and walking tours, and ten years of Public Talks covering history, politics, ecology, art, and more (see shapingsf.org). Carlsson has written two books, including a novel set in a future “post-economic” San Francisco (After the Deluge, Full Enjoyments Books: 2004), and edited six books including three “Reclaiming San Francisco” collections with the venerable City Lights Books. He redesigned and co-authored an expanded Vanished Waters: A History of San Francisco’s Mission Bay after which he joined the board of the Mission Creek Conservancy; he also serves as an advisor to the Shipyard Trust for the Arts at Hunter’s Point. He has given hundreds of public presentations based on Shaping San Francisco, Critical Mass, Nowtopia, Vanished Waters, and his “Reclaiming San Francisco” history anthologies since the late 1990s, and has appeared dozens of times in radio, television and on the internet.

 

Keith Hennessy

Keith Hennessy has lived in San Francisco since 1982 and has worked in the Mission for 33 years. A pioneer of queer performance and activist dance since the 80s, Hennessy is one of the most prolific and widely touring of West Coast performing artists. He was a member of the legendary Mission-based performance troupe Contraband (1985-94) and he co-founded 848 Community Space and CounterPulse, vibrant SF centers for experimental dance, and socially engaged performance. Since the early 80s, Hennessy has been involved in Bay Area left and progressive activism, from ACTUP to Occupy, against foreign wars, police brutality, and institutionalized racism and homophobia. In 2000, Keith co-organized the Festival of Resistance which drew over 2000 people to protest the eviction of Dancers’ Group during the first dot com wave of gentrification. In 2008, Keith collaborated with a group of young performers, aged 16-24, including those formerly arrested and incarcerated as youth, to make Delinquent, a poetic challenge to the prison industrial complex. Keith has taught extensively in local universities and independent studios, mentoring multiple generations of artists and activists.

 

Carin McKay

Carin McKay grew up in Northern California and has called San Francisco her home for over 23 years. A community organizer of 19 years, chef, nutritional educator, and small business owner, Carin has cooked food for tens of thousands of people at community events in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. She is the author of the cookbook “Culinary Magic at Regenerative Design Institute.” She has created farm-to-table events at CounterPulse and led after-school culinary programs at the Excelsior Community School via Project Ole, as well as taught cooking classes in the Mission and Marina. She was a member of Clown Conspiracy, a San Francisco street performance troupe, and has been inspired by 848 Community Space, Cellspace and Food Not Bombs.

 

Kirk Read

Kirk Read has lived in the Mission for 16 years. He is an author and performer who has curated hundreds of free public art events in the city. He was the founder and director of Army of Lovers, which commissioned artists to create work about public health issues. He was a co-founder of the Gay Men’s Health Summit, which led to dozens of conferences on gay men’s health around the world. He has worked as an HIV counselor and phlebotomist at St. James Infirmary, where he was one of the early volunteers. He is currently a nursing student and is doing his clinical practice at San Francisco General Hospital, where he hopes to work as a public health nurse.

 

Impunity

  1. exemption or immunity from punishment or recrimination
  2. exemption or immunity from unpleasant consequences

Connecting the dots between police violence, gentrification and dramatic housing price inflation, and the new Gilded Age’s kleptocratic elite…

The four police who murdered Alex Nieto on March 21, 2014 were finally named earlier this year after months of obstruction by Police Chief Greg Suhr. Monday March 23 saw over a hundred protesters blockade the Mission Police Station AND an ebay shuttle bus to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Nieto's death, and to continue to push for justice in this and a half dozen other cases of police murder.

The four police who murdered Alex Nieto on March 21, 2014 were finally named earlier this year after months of obstruction by Police Chief Greg Suhr. Monday March 23 saw over a hundred protesters blockade the Mission Police Station AND an ebay shuttle bus to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Nieto’s death, and to continue to push for justice in this and a half dozen other cases of police murder.

The ebay shuttle bus, blockaded in front of the Mission Police Station on Monday morning March 23, 2015.

The ebay shuttle bus, blockaded in front of the Mission Police Station on Monday morning March 23, 2015.

Hardly a day goes by anymore that I don’t get news about another young person gunned down by the police, nearby in San Francisco, or in some other city or suburb elsewhere. Nor does a day go by when we don’t hear about another longtime resident or small business being displaced through breathtakingly brazen rent increases or outright fraud. And as each day of this current credit bubble ticks on, we’re that much closer to the next collapse, the next “this came out of nowhere! Who had any idea it was all so fragile?!?” empty economy unraveling.

Meanwhile, highrises are climbing to the sky in most major cities… “Vertical money” or “safe deposit boxes in the sky” is how Martin Filler put it in his recent essay in the New York Review of Books (“New York: Conspicuous Construction”). Comparing the highrises in Manhattan to the contemporary art market, Filler notes that “multimillion dollar paintings and sculptures have become favored instruments in the global transfer of vast and largely unregulated sums. The more expensive the object, the more money can be shifted internationally in one transaction…” The displacement and disruption being caused by the inexorable climb in real estate values (and floor heights, these days!) is a symptom of the extreme concentration of wealth that has accelerated during the neoliberal period of the past quarter century. Driving the mind-boggling speculation in real estate in most major cities is the enormous wealth in few hands which needs a safe place to “land”—and that turns out to be literally land!

Rincon Hill and South of Market are being built out with highrise luxury condominiums and more redundant office towers.

Rincon Hill and South of Market are being built out with highrise luxury condominiums and more redundant office towers.

In 1840, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon famously said “property is theft” but no one could have imagined just how extreme the organized crime underlying today’s international kleptocratic class of plutocrats would be. How does this fit with the everyday state violence being unleashed all too regularly in American cities? The polite term is gentrification but it ought to be labeled for what it is: ethnic cleansing. Americans wring their hands over such activities in other parts of the world, but carry on living in an extremely segregated society. Even in San Francisco, a city that prides itself on a usually undeserved reputation for social liberalism and tolerance, the patterns of police violence are unmistakeable. More »

A Festival of Empire Wrapped in Technological Hubris

The Palace of Fine Arts lit up on the opening night of the centennial to match the lighting scheme that left such an impression a century ago.

The Palace of Fine Arts lit up on the opening night of the centennial to match the lighting scheme that left such an impression a century ago.

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) took place 100 years ago in San Francisco. It officially commemorated two major events: the opening of the Panama Canal and the rebuilding of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Now San Francisco is celebrating the centennial with parties and discussions and art shows, all nurturing a nostalgic ardor for the long-forgotten Fair, its short-lived but stunning fair grounds, and less consciously, a yearning for the certainties of that bygone era.

Like all World’s Fairs during the pre-WWI era, it was an extravaganza of technological and industrial innovations, fueling desires and shaping imaginations. Before multimillion dollar advertising budgets, World’s Fairs gave businesses their best chance to present their wares to a broad, often international audience. The PPIE benefited from the concentration of so many products and manufacturers, helping to stimulate a lively convention business in San Francisco during its run. As Laura Ackley’s fine overview of the Fair (“San Francisco’s Jewel City”) emphasizes:

The exhibits reflected the Fair’s dual goals: to serve as “University of the World” and “Shop-Window of Civilization.” … A week at the Exposition “will give you a view of the World’s Progress that could not be obtained in a Year of Travel,” proclaimed a pamphlet marketing conventions at the Fair… More than 900 congresses and conferences were held during the year, and were credited with boosting daily attendance from about 25,000 per day to more than 60,000 per day.

The multi-acre Panama Canal exhibit that allowed PPIE visitors to see the extent of the engineering effort that connected the Caribbean to the Pacific.

The multi-acre Panama Canal exhibit that allowed PPIE visitors to see the extent of the engineering effort that connected the Caribbean to the Pacific.

The PPIE enthusiastically celebrated the promise of accelerated and expanded global trade facilitated by the opening of the Panama Canal, even while WWI raged across Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. The European world system, dominated by England, France, and Germany, went to war despite the massive socialist working-class movements in each country. Internationalist and socialist workers who opposed national frontiers and nationalist wars on principle nevertheless voted in their respective parliaments for the war credits that paid for the barbarism that ensued.

The United States was determined to stay out of the war and during 1915 President Woodrow Wilson maintained a non-interventionist foreign policy. His Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, committed to avoiding war, resigned in June when Wilson sent a letter of reproach to Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm after German u-boats sank the Lusitania in 1915. Two weeks after Bryan gave a speech at PPIE on July 5 calling for peace, former president Teddy Roosevelt came through to exhort the belligerent inclinations of the population and to demand “preparedness,” the code word then for war.

San Francisco had large immigrant populations of German, Irish, Italian, and Chinese. The city was divided between those with sympathies toward the British and French side, or the Germans on the other, but after the sinking of the Lusitania, most Americans turned against the Germans. Meanwhile, General Pershing was in Texas preparing to lead an army into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa and his revolutionary troops in 1916, before he would lead U.S. forces into WWI in 1917. Other U.S. soldiers were still engaged in hostilities in the Philippines, seventeen years after the United States had fraudulently annexed that country under the cover of the Spanish-American war. The Presidio—adjacent to the PPIE grounds—was an important military base housing thousands of soldiers coming and going from these wars. Isolationism still had political support from many, but realistically, the U.S. was well on its long path to global superpower status.

Before computers... but it's the keyboard we still have! ... 21-foot wide 14-ton Underwood Typewriter striking a 9-foot wide sheet of paper.

Before computers… but it’s the keyboard we still have! … 21-foot wide 14-ton Underwood Typewriter striking a 9-foot wide sheet of paper.

The PPIE helped showcase new developments which came to underpin the U.S. war machine in following decades (from Ackley’s “Jewel City”):

… a grim portent of the Great War (WWI) was on display. The Holt Manufacturing Company of California displayed a train of Holt Caterpillar trucks drawn by a Caterpillar tractor featuring the first commercially successful continuous track, the forerunner of modern tank treads. In 1915 six European armies were using these vehicles for military transportation, and by the following year Holt machines were being sold to the Allied Forces and refitted as true armored tanks.

Adventurous citizens could take airplane rides at the Exposition, as brother Malcolm and Allan Loughead ran a charter hydro-aeroplane service, offering ten-minute flights for $10. Each flight passed over the Presidio to Fort Point, up the Marin Headlands, and back over Sausalito and Alcatraz before landing in the water and taxiing up a wooden ramp. This was the first airplane ride for nearly every customer, made all the more hair-raising because the blue of the bay could be seen through the floorboards of the homemade craft.

The PPIE marked a turning point for the Loughead brothers. The… early charter flights failed to make money. After paying Exposition concession fees the brothers made a $4,000 profit, money they used to found what would become—after a spelling change—the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.

During the years-long planning and construction process, local businessmen dominated the preparations and controlled the event, keeping corporate enterprise in the driver’s seat. Already the ideology of “growth” dominated the political visions of businessmen and citizens across the political spectrum. Organized labor, so strong during the first decade of the 20th century, had seen its power diminishing since the election of “Sunny Jim” Rolph, displacing the Union Labor Party from the mayor’s office for good. AFL unions, especially those organized under the Building Trades Council, were nervous about asserting themselves too aggressively, a stance that suited Fair managers just fine. In fact, tens of thousands of unskilled workers had poured into San Francisco between 1911 and 1914 seeking work building the Fair, threatening to undercut the wages and standards established by the unions. More »

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