On November 19, Mayor Breed announced the “Love Our City Holiday Eco Blitz.” The Eco Blitz is a 24 hour a day, two month initiative to clean up the city for the holiday weekend between Black Friday and the end of the holiday shopping season. However, an unfortunate side effect of these efforts we have seen repeatedly has been the sweeping of poor and unhoused people out of downtown San Francisco in the name of street cleanliness or “going green.” Breed announced her holiday theme alongside the cities’ most notorious conductors of sweeps: the Department of Public Works and the police department. Launched in partnership with four of San Francisco’s most notorious purveyor of greed and neo-liberalism the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District (CBD), the East Cut CBD, the Fisherman’s Wharf CBD, and the Union Square Business Improvement District (BID).
The irony of using these private corporations as a substitute for any kind of actual community support is especially blatant coming from the city itself. The Mayor’s Office, which spends tens of thousands of dollars subsidizing the creation of new CBDs, and offers a “plethora of services” to support them, knows very well that these organizations represent only one set of interests – big businesses.
BIDs, of which CBDs are one type, are private corporations created by, funded by and accountable to only the largest property owners in the districts to which they lay claim.
In elections on BIDs, which happen every time one is created or renewed, ballots are weighted according to the size and value of a property owner’s property. So the more property you own, the bigger your vote, and the more responsive the BID is to your needs. In the last election for the Yerba Buena CBD, it received more than half of its votes from just five property owners: four large corporations and the city itself. The vast majority of people whose day-to-day lives are actually affected by BIDs are renters and community members who have no control over the creation, funding, or decision-making of the BID.
This matters because BIDs are using their false image as community representatives to justify policing some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. BIDs narrow the range of activities permitted in public spaces to those directly conducive to consumption, and all else becomes criminalized — especially the activities of poor and unhoused people. These four BIDs alone spent over $5 million last year on security. Each one hired off-duty cops and private security to harass poor and unhoused people who dared to stay in San Francisco’s public spaces. The Union Square BID has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars installing a camera surveillance network, and the Fisherman’s Wharf CBD harassed people for sitting or lying down 2,565 times last year.
This is only the latest in a long line of government policies BIDs have supported to further marginalize and punish San Francisco’s poorest residents. The Union Square BID testified in favor of San Francisco’s sit-lie ban back in 2010. More recently, five BIDs pushed the city to support a conservatorship law giving police more power to violate the civil rights of unhoused people as part of the Clean and Safe Coalition. If it was not clear enough already, the support of BIDs leaves no room for doubt: this program is a campaign to rid downtown of poor and unhoused people so that holiday shoppers will even further enrich the bottom lines of corporate San Francisco.