All posts by Vicente Patino

California Can Really Use a Homeless Bill of Rights

A “Homeless Bill of Rights” is being considered in California’s legislature must pass to help defend the state’s neediest people from local ordinances which, in the words of the bill’s backer, “infringe on poor peoples’ ability to exist in public space.”

Last week, Assembly Bill 5, sponsored by state assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, cleared a committee of California’s lower legislative house with margin of seven votes to two. The bill currently exists in a stripped down version, but even the narrowed form of the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act provides some valuable protections for Californians whose only wrongdoing is to not have a fixed place to call home.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that there are 15 rights outlined in the bill, which include “the right ‘to move freely, rest, solicit donations, pray, meditate, practice religion, to eat, share, accept or give food and water in public spaces without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, harassment or arrest.” There are all legal guarantees that would, should the bill pass, fly in the face of many local laws (including San Francisco’s 2010 sit-lie ordinance) that keep people from sitting or lying down in public places — both activities which are central to homeless life.

The bill also includes common sense provisions which recognize that the daily reality of homelessness is persistent and does not simply vanish with anti-homeless ordinances. For example, California would pay for “‘health and hygiene centers’ that would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and would be required to include bathrooms and showers.” The law would disallow sit-lie ordinances in cities that have high unemployment, that have a long waiting list for shelter beds, or that do not provide “readily available public assistance” to the poor. Additionally, attorneys would be provided for people who were given citations based on their housing status, and homeless people would be entitled to be compensated for personal property that was improperly removed or destroyed by law enforcement.

Enumerating the rights of California’s most destitute is a key step toward addressing the root causes of homelessness and extreme poverty, rather than just masking the symptoms of this social condition. Currently 3.7 percent of our city’s population does not have any form of shelter. It is San Francisco’s duty to recognize their right to public existence, and if San Francisco in unwilling to fulfill that duty, then the state in the form of this Homeless Bill of Rights needs to step in. Not passing the current bill risks further incriminating a population that is already marginalized by many of their fellow citizens.

Parking Wars: All-Day Parking Will Probably Become Two-Hour Parking by June

The San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA) is considering holding a public hearing on Friday, May 17 to review recommendations for changing the parking scheme on the streets around campus.

If the tentative hearing indeed takes place on May 17, a follow-up SFMTA board meeting would likely be scheduled for Tuesday, June 18. According to Paul Rose, press officer for the city agency that oversees parking, traffic, and transportation planning in San Francisco, these new measures may be passed. The board’s approval in June could mean that all-day parking would be gone by the end of summer 2013.

The SFMTA is proposing to make many of the often-occupied all-day spaces that line university property into parking that would require motorists to move their cars every two hours most days. The current plan was modified from an earlier proposal that included placing new parking meters on those all-day spaces.

The meter portion of the plan was met with strong resistance in a lengthy February SFMTA meeting involving university neighbors, who were generally opposed to any tightened restrictions to street parking. On March 28, e-mails from an SFMTA employee were obtained by a University Terrace resident and shared with the Foghorn. These correspondences indicated that parking meters were no longer part of the agency’s proposal.

A second option to impose four-hour (instead of two-hour) limits on the all-day spaces was dropped by the SFMTA because a “four-hour time limit would…do little to dissuade the use of private motor vehicles for commuting,” Rose said, highlighting the intent of the agency’s citywide campaign to discourage automobile commuting in favor of greener transit alternatives.

“It would be fairly easy for someone to park in the morning, move their vehicle during lunch time, and thereafter continue a habit of driving to campus,” Rose said of the four-hour parking option. “One of our missions is [to] create an environmentally sustainable transportation system by encouraging a transit-first mindset for commuting.”

The two-hour time slots would probably be in force from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., similar to the limits that currently exist on streets around the main campus. However, unlike these side streets,  Tom Folks,  senior engineer at the SFMTA, stated via e-mail that the new two-hour spaces would not allow cars of any letter parking permit to park for more than two hours at a time.

Another parking hearing, organized by San Francisco supervisor Mark Farrell, will take place today, May 2, 2013 at 3:00 p.m. in room 201 of the Board Chambers in City Hall. The meeting will address citizens’ concerns with SFMTA proposals citywide, and will likely include discussion and input on the University Terrace plan. The hearing will also be attended by San Francisco supervisors David Campos, Eric Mar, and Malia Cohen.

San Francisco’s Unaffordability is an Environmental Injustice

The high costs of living here means those who are not wealthy will find it hard to share in an environmental dream.

It is an environmental injustice that living in San Francisco has become and remains out of the reach of middle- and low-income people, not just an economic one.

April 22 will mark the 43rd Earth Day, and as it approaches, talk of divestment from fossil fuels, green building and transport, bike paths, slow food, and sustainable farming dominate the conversation about being green. That many USF students are eager to take up these causes is wonderful to see.

But these issues need to be placed in the context of a very real environmental problem that could not be closer to our college home. It is a problem that is by no means unique to San Francisco, but it is especially acute in a city that, though it prides itself on the diversity of its residents, becomes less diverse by the year.

San Francisco’s problem is that of providing an environmentally sound human habitat for all — the rich, and the poor; professionals and laborers; the politically powerful and the marginalized; the generationally established and recent immigrants; minorities as well as majorities.

In many ways, San Francisco is the embodiment of that environmentally sound human habitat, but the incredibly high cost of living here means the green gem that is the City is only reasonably available to an ever-shrinking, homogenous, and wealthy segment of the population.

Our city’s population density — in the U.S., second only to New York — makes San Francisco what is called a “walkable” town. The green implications of living in a walkable town are that its residents are healthier for not having to jump in a car every time to conduct business, commute, or run errands. The proximity of stores, schools, offices and open spaces in San Francisco, combined with an extensive and well-used public transit system, translates into dramatically reduced fossil fuel use per person, and reduced pollution and energy use overall.

And, increasingly, these benefits are only for those who can afford it.

Or take this scenario: the ease of being able to walk, bike, or bus to an urban farmer’s market to purchase locally grown, sustainably farmed food is something we take for granted in San Francisco; it is luxury in other, less expensive locales, where residents may have no choice but to drive to a commercial complex sitting on acres of asphalt to buy conventionally-raised food.

The fact that the San Francisco farmer’s market scenario is increasingly restricted to the wealthy, and the second, less environmentally desirable situation is what the rest of society is being limited to, means a clear injustice is happening.

In USF’s celebration of Earth Day, if we lose sight of this growing environmental inequality taking place just outside campus, all our efforts toward sustainability are suddenly hamstrung.

 

Staff Editorial: Searching for the Right Time to Make History? Look No Further Than Today.

The same way we look at the ’60′s is the same way people will view our genraration decades from now.

Remember and act in the year you are living now, because they are momentous ones. 30 or 40 years from now, you — along with young people, historians, politicians, bloggers (if they will even exist that far down the road), and many others will be looking at 2013 and adjacent years and see a pivotal era in American and world history in the same way we look at the 1960’s today.

This isn’t meant to be cosmic or sentimental advice. This is a serious admonition to pay attention to a remarkable confluence of current events that harken back to the society-shaking shifts in attitudes that took place nearly 50 years ago in the 1960’s. The question to ask yourself is: what will your legacy, contribution, and story story be when, decades from now, people study the 2010’s, easily the 1960’s of the new millennium?

For example, today, the United  States, even with its current drawdown of troops in the Middle East after more than 10 years of war, is still embroiled militarily in campaigns against international terrorism. 50 years ago, American military power was similarly being used toward the ideological defeat of communism, most famously and disastrously in the drawn-out decade-long campaign in Vietnam.

In another example, the nearly unprecedented resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the subsequent election of Pope Francis, a Jesuit Argentine, on March 13 gained as much interest in the renewal of a troubled Chruch as the Second Vatican Council did when it was first convened by Pope John XXIII to reexamine the role of a globalizing Church in the rapidly changing world of 1963. If you hear the Catholic Mass in English rather than in Latin today, for instance, you have the Second Vatican Council to thank for that.

The Supreme Court, which monopolized the national spotlight last week because of last weeks’ arguments to legalize gay marriage, offers a third parallel. Decades ago, massively important social issues found a resolution in decisions like Brown v. Board of Edcuation (1954)  which sounded the death knell for hundred-year old segregation laws in the South, and Roe v. Wade (1973), which recognized a constitutional right to an abortion.

A similar tug-of-war between states’ rights, federal law, and changing social attitudes is playing out today. The nine Supreme Court justices will now spend a few months hashing out decisions on the status of voter-enacted state gay marriage bans and a U.S. law restricting certain important federal benefits traditionally married couples.

Clearly, both the ‘60’s and ‘10’s, though obviously very different times, share a common spirit of deep, momentous, and memorable change. If there was ever a time to contribute a vo categorize ice to a notable era — to literally make history — now would be a very, very good time.

Commuter Students Disgruntled with Proposed Changes in Street Parking

 

The sought-after, fought-after unregulated street parking spaces lining university property and the parking-meter free streets around USF may vanish as soon this summer, a reality that is meeting resistance from students who commute by car to class.

A heated Feb. 21 meeting at USF between representatives of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) — the city’s transit and parking authority —  and the neighborhood University Terrace Association concerned about the proposed changes showed plans to regulate parking in most streets around campus where motorists now park for free, without a time limit, or both. In that plan, areas affected by increased restrictions would include the high-volume south side of Golden Gate Avenue between Parker and Masonic, which contains a long string of “all-day” spaces skirting the length of the main campus from Fromm Hall to Benedetti Diamond.

All-day spaces adjacent to the Koret Recreation Center, along the west side of Fromm Hall, along the north side of Fulton Street, and around Lone Mountain are also slated to become metered or time-limited parking, according to the SFMTA proposal. Additionally, two-hour parking in some residential streets, especially in the Terrace neighborhood separating Lone Mountain and the main campus, is scheduled to become one-hour parking.

“I don’t see a good side to this,” said Jane Ou, a senior international studies major who does not own a car, but whose boyfriend drives to USF often from his home at 33rd Avenue and Balboa Street in the Outer Sunset district.

“When people are lazy, they are lazy. When people want to drive, they want to drive,” she said of the SFMTA’s parking plan that is partly aimed to encourage more people to choose public transit over driving. Ou also objected to a proposed one-hour limit on Terrace street parking where cars without a permit are currently allowed to park for two hours at a time during weekdays. “It’s ridiculous,” she said. “Class time is never less than one hour and five minutes.”

The one-hour limit was a common complaint of commuter students, who pointed out that even the shortest class session at USF would effectively expose all student motorists parking in some of the residential streets around campus to ticketing.

“There’s no class that lasts less than an hour,” said Jessyca Mitchell, a senior Japanese major. “You have to come to school way before class to find parking, and those [classes] are at least an hour five.”

“Making the time limit an hour doesn’t help,” said junior sociology major Tahlia Joseph, who used to drive to school before this semester. “If anything, it’s basically a way for the city to get more money through parking tickets.”

Senior Joe Estalilla called the one-hour proposal “unfair,” especially in light of the level of ticketing he witnessed for people who overstay the current two-hour limit. As a way to ease the restrictions the city is looking to impose on street parking, Estalilla proposed that, “with the [money] that USF has…we [should] invest in a parking garage.”

Parking meters around campus were also unpopular, but the time-limiting of the all-day spaces to four-hours had some student support.

Though Joseph, for instance, saw metered parking as ineffective, because “it would be easy to stay there [in that spot] since you could just keep putting money in,” she felt “four hour [parking] is a good idea.”

“Nobody wants to have to pay for parking around our own school when we’re going to class.” Joseph said.

“I would consider making the whole line [of cars along Golden Gate Avenue] four-hour parking,” Ou said. “I don’t know who parks there all the time, but they are taking up space.”

At least one student, Elyse Cohen, a senior nursing major, welcomed the proposed changes. An occasional car commuter, Cohen saw the SFMTA’s disincentives to bring a car to school as an “inconvenience” that the campus would “get used to.” For Cohen, the effect the changes would make in making students walk more and drive less to campus was a positive one.

“I drive on Wednesdays,” she said, “but I could change that.”

Jason Weiler disagreed. The junior media studies major, who will only drive to campus on Sundays next semester, considers SFMTA’s plan “very stupid,” especially when “parking is so limited already.” Even a trip to USF on a Sunday will not spare drivers from paying for parking if meters go up. San Francisco just recently enacted Sunday metering city-wide, a move Weiler calls “ridiculous.”

“I don’t know how I’d fix it,” Weiler said of USF’s perpetual parking shortage, “but I certainly wouldn’t do this.”

Officially, USF has no position on the proposed street parking changes around campus, as the streets are public property and under the jurisdiction of the SFMTA. If the SFMTA approves the changes, the restrictions would likely take effect over a summer break, possibly summer 2013, to ease the transition in street parking rules for new and returning students.

Pope Benedict XVI’s Resignation Today Shows Courage, Wisdom in Leading Embattled Chruch

Being the first pontiff to preside over any serious examination into clergy abuse, along with a humility that allows him to give up title as Pope, is to Benedict XVI’s credit.

 

After leading the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics for some eight years, Pope Benedict XVI, age 85, made a courageous decision to step down and let someone else take the reins of the Catholic Church.

The last day of Benedict XVI’s papacy is today, February 28. His stepping down represents the first time in 598 years of the church’s nearly 2000-year existence that a pontiff is resigning. Speculation and conspiracies aside, the act of deciding to break with centuries old tradition — reigning as the pope until natural death — is indicative of a keen consideration and evolving wisdom for the realities of governing a growing, changing, and — yes, damaged — church.

The troubled reputation of Catholicism after a continuing, decades-long scandal in the form of clergy sex abuse and the subsequent inaction of some superiors is, tragically, one of the realities the present church must grapple with. But to the credit of Pope Benedict, the issue of priestly abuse began to receive some serious and desperately needed attention under his watch. The Irish church, for instance, was a particularly egregious case of clergy misconduct, with inquiries by the Archdiocese of Dublin into the matter uncovering a ghastly pattern of abuse stretching back to 70 years.

The response from Pope Benedict was something that even the survivors (who have every right to take anything the Catholic leadership says grudgingly) called  “unprecedented” and “encouraging.”

That Pope Benedict openly, unambiguously apologized through a pastoral letter to the victims and directed the guilty to “answer before God and properly constituted tribunals for the sinful and criminal actions they have committed” may not at first seem extraordinary. But in light of the church’s resistance to shed light on this sorry chapter of its history — which includes an insistence to keep church matters out the hands of the law — this was a promising move toward healing that, previously, was not forthcoming in the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict made this happen.

A second item to Pope Benedict’s credit, at least in the eyes of the Foghorn, is not any one accomplishment, stance, or statement; this is a debate to be had on other venues. Rather, the focus should be on the difficulty, moral and personal understanding, and prudence in the pope’s decision to step down.

Smack in the line of a seemingly entrenched tradition of living out the papacy to one’s death, the pope had the presence of mind to determine that world’s Catholics were better served with a more able leader.  To make this decision in the face of staunch tradition could not have been easy, especially for a pontiff whose mark on the Church will likely be his traditionalism. A more general precedent in the Curch of wisdom even as tradition suggests otherwise may have been set by Pope Benedict XVI, and it’s an encouraging sign.