A much reviled figure in the worlds of adult entertainment and HIV/AIDS healthcare in California, Michael Weinstein of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), is now catching plenty of heat in his home city over the foundation's questionable financial backing of a local ballot measure to halt development in the city. His reason? It could have something to do with high-rise projects near AHF's downtown headquarters the he doesn't like, but his stated reason has to do with gentrification's impacts on people with HIV/AIDS, and he's using San Francisco as an example to make his point.
Measure S a ballot prop being voted on in a March 7 local election and which Governor Jerry Brown, the LA Times, and our sister site LAist have all been vociferously against purports to be about fixing a corrupt planning system, but would effectively shut down a variety of development projects by putting a two-year moratorium on all projects that require General Plan amendments, zoning changes, or extra height allowances. Speaking to what many in LA see as a legitimate problem, it also puts a permanent end to General Plan amendments for any property less than 15 acres, forcing the city instead to initiate a new General Plan process.
Justifying the $4.6 million bankrolling of Measure S, Weinstein tells the LA Times that it fits perfectly into AHF's "social justice battles against governments that fail to serve the people." Further, he says, "We have witnessed how San Francisco, where AHF has clinics for testing and treatment, has become a rich ghetto. Low-income people by the tens of thousands have been displaced and diversity is harder and harder to find. The same thing is unfolding in Los Angeles."
And AHF, which as a nonprofit is not legally allowed to make "substantial" outlays of cash, time, or effort in order to influence legislation, is a force to be reckoned with due to its enormous wealth. The 30-year-old organization has an annual budget somewhere around $250 million (or something like $1.3 billion annually including affiliated entities), but in addition to operating pharmacies, non-profit thrift stores, and health clinics in 15 states, Weinstein has spearheaded recent ballot initiatives in California like 2016's Prop 60 (requiring condoms on all porn shoots), and Prop 61 (requiring drug companies to use the same pricing for all state-funded entities that they use with VA), neither of which passed.
As with those previous initiative efforts, critics are calling out Weinstein for having disingenuous motives. The condom measure, while on the surface worded as being about worker protection, seemed to stem from Weinstein's own prudishness around bareback sex and the era of PrEP he's been a vocal opponent of the latter, calling it a "party drug" and irresponsibly suggesting that it wasn't effective in preventing HIV infections, despite science to the contrary. Also, it should be noted that the foundation has partnered with the LifeStyles condom company for World's AIDS Day campaigns, a partnership that goes back years. Note the LifeStyles shoutout in this press photo of Weinstein protesting about condoms at Larry Flynt's Hustler magazine headquarters back in 2004, 12 years before Prop 60.
In the case of Measure S, the LA Times speaks to a developer's rep who claims to have been threatened by Weinstein with this very referendum if a pair of 30-story towers his firm had planned next to AHF's offices weren't shrunk down to 12 stories so that his office view wasn't obstructed. Public affairs consultant Steve Afriat, who was working on behalf of developer Crescent Heights, says that despite city support for the 731-unit residential project, Weinstein pushed back squarely in a 2015 meeting. "He said if we lowered it to 12 stories, he would no longer oppose the project. If we didn’t, he threatened to sue and do a referendum," Afriat claims. Weinstein denies part of this account, but says he did tell Afriat that lowering the towers to 12 stories would be more "acceptable."
It is odd, regardless, for a healthcare foundation born out of the AIDS crisis to now have its hands in so many real estate development fights. The LAT notes that the group also filed a lawsuit against a 15-story office building also near their downtown headquarters. And here in SF, AHF tried to sue the city in 2014 when it was refused the ability to consolidate two of its pharmacies and relocate to bigger space in the Castro, due to formula retail restrictions.
Oh, but right, this all about helping people with HIV and preventing HIV infections, and not about someone with deep pockets who likes to get in legal wars and get his way.
Below, a video from the No on S campaign.