A well funded Los Angeles-based AIDS organization has focused its attention recently on an opposition campaign to thwart state Senate Bill 50 (SB50), the latest effort by Sen. Scott Wiener to push for greater housing density near transit hubs.
The latest campaign, which arrived in the form of fliers and cable TV ads, compares SB50 with San Francisco's much maligned "urban renewal" campaign that displaced thousands of African Americans in the Fillmore neighborhood. Writer James Baldwin is quoted in the ad campaign saying, in 1963, "San Francisco is engaging in something called urban renewal, which means moving the negroes out. It means negro removal." The flier and ad feature images of Baldwin, and suggest that Wiener's bill is "a handout to greedy developers" and will "make our affordability crisis even worse." (Incidentally, the flier also misspells Wiener's name as "Weiner.")
Indeed, when Wiener introduced the bill in December as a revised version of his previously shot-down SB827, critics of the former proposed bill reiterated that it could lead to unchecked and unwanted development of high-rise, luxury condos in previously quiet neighborhoods.
But Wiener and supporters of the measure say that that is not its intent, and that any comparisons to the misguided redevelopment projects of the 1960s are out of line.
Also, this campaign was launched by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the same organization that sued San Francisco in 2014 after the city refused to let it consolidate two of its pharmacies into a larger space in the Castro, and has thrown its money behind a defeated 2016 proposition requiring condoms in porn, and another 2017 measure in Los Angeles to shut down some developments there. During that fight, the AHF's executive director Michael Weinstein used the example of the "rich ghetto" of San Francisco to justify the organization's battle against downtown LA development — though it was rumored at the time that Weinstein's true motive had more to do with stopping two towers from being built that would obstruct his office views.
Of the latest campaign, Weinstein tells ABC 7, "The truth may hurt, but the reality is that San Francisco has become a place that only rich, and mostly white people, can live in."
We got this in the mail today... maybe you did too. People are calling it offensive, racist and manipulative. It’s a flyer comparing a state housing bill to “negro removal”, paid for by a Los Angeles activist. Mayor Breed, State Sen. Weiner and Rev. Amos Brown have all weighed in pic.twitter.com/cKnjQP34Es— Kate Larsen (@KateABC7) April 19, 2019
Mayor London Breed tells ABC 7 that Weinstein is way out of line in conjuring up comparisons to the redevelopment of the Fillmore. "I lived through it and it happened and we are still sadly living with the impacts," says Breed. "[Weinstein] is a person, along with so many other people, who continue to take advantage of our community and use it for the purposes of propaganda. They have no idea what it feels like to have had to suffer over the years in a situation like this."
And Wiener suggests to the Chronicle that Weinstein's campaign is part of a personal vendetta against him, one that he traces back to 2014 and the AHF's fight over that Castro pharmacy, which Wiener helped to block. There's also a public disagreement they've had about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, or Truvada, the drug being popularly used by gay men for HIV prevention), with Wiener being a vocal promoter of it, and Weinstein deriding it as a "party drug" and trying to undermine the science behind its use.
In an email to constituents this week, Wiener took a swipe at AHF, saying it "presents itself as a community-based nonprofit with ‘AIDS’ and ‘Foundation’ in its name, but in reality, it is a chain pharmacy and insurance company, labeled ‘nonprofit’ but with a budget in excess of $1 billion." He further described Weinstein as "a mean bully obsessed with using HIV healthcare funds to engage in politics, settle political scores, and increasingly, oppose new housing in California and fund anti-housing NIMBY organizations."
AHF is no stranger to these fights, and you can expect that Weinstein won't back down anytime soon.
Longtime black community leader and former SF supervisor Reverend Amos Brown says to ABC 7 of the campaign, "To think that someone would be that unprincipled to prey upon the pain of black people... as if we don't know how to think and we don't know our history and were gullible, that's offensive. So I hope that the fair minded, thinking people of San Francisco and this region will rise up and show whoever is behind this, that you don't deserve being heard at all."