Local media has drummed up a firestorm of articles, blogs and videos on the fact we might get evicted here at Kezar Gardens.  Some impetus for the media is that very few of the “big guys” have gotten the story right.  In this complicated web of recycling, gardens, community, Rec and Park, the Mayor’s office and the homeless elephant in the park, it’s easy to leave things out when you are reporting back.  Today, we bring you the Richmond Review, Thomas K. Pendergast takes on one angle of the fight and tries to parse some sense out of it.

The homeless.  The city and its representatives insist they are not discriminating against homeless people yet much of their presentations at governmental meetings have not recoiled from shedding bright light on the “large congregation” of homeless people supposedly found at Kezar Gardens Ecology Center .  While Pendergast hesitates from voicing his own opinion in the article, his  focus on the homeless debate/debacle that runs alongside the battle against eviction is quite telling.

And please remember, recycling is required within a certain distance of a grocery store in the state of California.  So, if it’s true, that shutting down recycling at Kezar is an attempt to quell a “secondary congregation” of homeless people, it is also true that the city would have need to shut down all the buyback recycling in SF to address that problem.

Is that the plan, dear City?

It is also worth noting Sunday’s front page SF Chronicle report on the Sit/Lie law citing the Haight Ashbury neighborhood as having the most violations, many of them elderly and homeless, are repeat offenders.  But, no one, certainly not our city government, is targeting homeless people, are they, just the regular folk who sit and lie on city streets.

If the city can justify its actions against the homeless, so what?  It only proves we have a flawed system.  They have done little or nothing to diminish the widespread perception that they are engaged in a systematic and long term war to erase homeless people from view.

And, as we all know, perception is reality.

This article first appeared in the August issue of the Richmond Review newspaper.

Appeals Court says recycling center in Golden Gate Park must go

by Thomas K. Pendergast

A California state appeals court has upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of the city’s Recreation and Park Department (RPD) and its efforts to evict the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) recycling center from Golden Gate Park.

Attorneys for HANC argued before the lower court that the eviction was illegal because it was done as retribution for HANC’s opposition to former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s “sit/lie ordinance” and other issues involving homeless people in the park and surrounding area.

The appeals court disagreed.

“The (lower) court explained that ‘there is no evidence beyond mere speculation that the City terminated (the Council’s) tenancy in retaliation for any protected conduct on the part of (the Council). To the contrary, the City put forth uncontradicted evidence that it filed this action for the legitimate purpose of implementing city policy on the premises and evicting a tenant who was illegally occupying the premises despite no longer holding a lease to that property,'” stated the appeals court in its opinion.

“The City presented evidence that it terminated the Council’s tenancy to convert the site to a community garden, and that planning for the garden began long before the Council engaged in the protected speech that it claims motivated the eviction. The City was exploring alternative uses for the site by January of 2010, after years of community discontent with the recycling center and related health and safety concerns. … The criticism of Newsom appeared in a newspaper article dated July 9, 2010. … The City’s plan to replace the recycling center with a community garden was thus underway before the Council criticized then-Mayor Newsom and his policies, and therefore could not have been based on his desire to retaliate for its criticism.”

Ed Dunn, who runs the recycling center, disagrees with the opinion of both courts and says HANC will now appeal that decision to the California Supreme Court. He says a “cabal” of people within city government have long been irritated by HANC’s support of the homeless and other issues opposed by the mayor’s office, well before the so-called sit/lie ordinance, which forbids sitting or laying on public sidewalks.

Dunn says what this is really about is an attempt to get rid of homeless people illegally camping in Golden Gate Park.

“They’re thinking in terms of getting rid of HANC (recycling) and getting rid of the homeless. This is about economic cleansing. This is about a scorched-earth campaign to deprive the lowest one percent of an opportunity of getting two nickels to scratch together. That’s what it’s about,” said Dunn. “That’s really nasty class warfare.”

Dennis Kern, the director of operations for the RPD, referred directly to the issue of homeless people in the park when making the case for evicting the recycling center at a commission meeting on Dec. 2, 2010.

“In our view, recycling provides an economic means to continue camping throughout the year in the park,” Kern told the SF Recreation and Park Commission, right before it unanimously voted to proceed with the eviction. “In the last 12 months there were a number of criminal events in which either the perpetrator or the victim was an illegal camper. So, it’s our position that without this economic means to sustain illegal camping in the park, then this illegal activity will significantly decrease, thereby increasing the public safety factor.”

Dunn scoffs at the idea that getting rid of the recycling center will affect the number of homeless people in the park or stop them from rummaging through blue curbside recycling bins in the surrounding neighborhood. He noted that there are other recycling centers on the west side of the City and in San Mateo County.

“Getting rid of one, thinking you’re going to impact the situation, is ridiculous,” said Dunn. “Beyond that, there are folks that buy recyclables and then resell them at a markup on the street. They run illicit buy-back operations. There are plenty of places for people to take their stuff.”

In a brief filed with the court on Jan. 23, 2012, City Attorney Dennis Herrera denied the eviction was “driven by animus towards homeless people,” although he admits the issue of homeless people in the park was a factor.

“To be sure, one of the many different reasons for the transition was a concern by members of the neighborhood, and members of city government, about the adverse secondary effects of the large congregation of homeless people at and near the recycling center,” Herrera states in the brief. “It is entirely appropriate for the government to address the secondary effects of a congregation of people, and this does not constitute evidence that the government is acting out of animus towards those people or punishing them because of their status … indeed, all of HANC’s recycling customers, not just its homeless customers, are affected equally by the decision to terminate the lease. The secondary effects of a large congregation of homeless people drawn by the recycling center was but one of many reasons that drove Rec.-Park’s decision to transition the property.”

The RPD plans to replace the recycling center with a community garden and a garden resource center, a move Dunn describes as “cynical” because the HANC recycling center has long supported community garden institutions around the city and contributed resources to them, including the Hayes Valley Farm, Garden for the Environment and the Civic Center Victory Garden.

“We were already a garden resource center in many ways. We did do what we told them we could do for them and we transformed the bulk of the site to the community garden,” says Dunn.

In 1998, the Golden Gate Master Plan was established and in it the recycling center was designated as being a “non-conforming use” because it is considered an industrial use, and therefore it would eventually be phased out. Dunn is skeptical that this is the real reason for the eviction.

“We’ve been on Park and Rec. land since 1977, so for that to be pulled up right now as a reason to get rid of us is absurd,” says Dunn. “We’re being called an industrial site. That is just the worst kind of lie. This is not an industrial site. What we’re doing here is what’s done at 1,200 supermarkets all across the state.

“To get rid of a few homeless people they’re willing to get rid of something that is useful. That’s pretty crazy. When you go through all the policies on the urban agriculture side and on the recycling side, there’s no good answer for getting rid of us.”

As of July 20, 2012, the SF Sheriff’s Department has not received a court order to enforce the eviction, according to the department’s public information officer, Susan Fahey.

Inquiries to the mayor’s office as to when it plans to approach the court for permission to enforce the eviction notice were not answered as of presstime.