Discover more from Gotham by Susan Dyer Reynolds
Three Bat Tuesday: Ninth Circuit to hear homeless appeal; woman steals bottle of Prosecco to survive; defund the Bike Coalition
Plus: Tweets and memes of the week, petition to help Skid Row dogs, and how much your pet is worth according to California law
“The A.C.L.U., America’s high temple of free speech and civil liberties, has emerged as a muscular and richly funded progressive powerhouse…”
— Longtime A.C.L.U. lawyer David Goldberger to the New York Times, 2021
Gotham by Susan Dyer Reynolds is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
First, my apologies for Three Bat Thursday becoming Three Bat Tuesday, but our Internet was sporadic last Wednesday through Friday. Comcast appears to have fixed the problem, so away we go…
While I don’t always agree with Randy Shaw, director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, his latest Beyond Chron blog post is a must-read. This Wednesday, August 23, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the City of San Francisco’s argument against an emergency order granted by U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Ryu to the Coalition on Homelessness (COH) on behalf of seven homeless people. Their claim? The city violated their rights by “punishing residents who have nowhere to go” when removing tents and belongings from public spaces, with the goal of forcing the city to spend billions more on “affordable housing and other resources.”
As Shaw points out, the A.C.L.U. of Northern California is an attorney for COH, and if the Ninth Circuit rules for their clients, they will get “substantial attorneys fees.” It’s no secret that the A.C.L.U. has veered drastically from its original mission. Lauded longtime lawyer David Goldberger, who argued one of its most famous cases defending the free speech rights of Nazis in the 1970s to march in Skokie, Ill., home to many Holocaust survivors, has been vocal about his unease with the group’s transformation from a bastion of free speech to a group that does’t even utter the words “First Amendment” in its recent annual reports. “I got the sense it was more important for A.C.L.U. staff to identify with clients and progressive causes than to stand on principle,” he told the New York Times in 2021. Clearly they’re a perfect fit for COH.
Also disturbing is Shaw’s revelation that one member of the three-judge panel hearing the case, Judge Roopali Desai, is a member of the A.C.L.U., and that her photo and testimonial for the Arizona chapter was on their website through last Friday. When Shaw tried to add the link over the weekend for his story, he found access to the page was blocked (the link remains inaccessible; I reached out to the A.C.L.U. media liaison but haven’t heard back as of press time). Shaw snapped a screenshot showing the alleged accolades prior to removal, which could simply be a coincidence — or a more sinister sign of awareness that her loyalty to the A.C.L.U. creates a clear conflict of interest.
Opposition to the injunction — and to Friedenbach’s 25-year grip over San Francisco’s politicians and homeless policies — has grown to a fevered pitch. There is a rally planned for Wednesday at 9 a.m. in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (95 7th Street at Mission) preceding the 10 a.m. hearing.
In my opinion, allowing the homeless to reject offers of shelter and pitch their tents anywhere they please is just another stunt by COH to keep the dollars rolling in. For years I’ve called Jennifer Friedenbach, COH’s executive director, the “CEO of San Francisco’s de facto homeless marketing agency.” As one longtime colleague recently told me, “She’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She’s a liar. I’ve been trying to get people to listen about her for years … Every time we try something new Jennifer puts up a roadblock because she wants to keep things the same. She runs the homeless industrial complex. If you’re able to write a letter for someone who just arrived on a Greyhound bus and get them taxpayer money, you’re the CEO.” In other words, Friedenbach has zero incentive to solve homelessness and millions of reasons not to.
A former employee concurred that Friedenbach has been shady since the early days, particularly when it comes to finances. “Jennifer Friedenbach has ignored the founding principals of TheCoalitionSF,” a Twitter (now X) user who goes by ElihuWho said in response to my articles questioning COH’s accounting methods. “When Paul Boden co-founded the Coalition On Homelessness, his primary issue was ENDING homeless NOT continue financial support for the organization.” In a subsequent tweet, ElihuWho said she was a former employee. “We use to file for Federal Unemployment Benefits WHILE working 40+ hours a week & apparently, Jennifer Friedenbach Executive Director, didn't like me posting financial information so....I got blocked…”
No surprise there — when I questioned Friedenbach about the millions of dollars flowing between the original Prop. C campaign PAC “Our City Our Home” (which still has an active website accepting donations) to the “Our City Our Home” fund to COH, Friedenbach disabled her Twitter account.
“Page 7 and various other pages in the IRS tax forms for various years, my name is NOT included as the Civil Rights Organizer for TheCoalitionSF who worked 40 hours a week. Why? Jennifer Friedenbach required employees to file for Unemployment benifits WHILE working 40+ hours a week,” the former employee said in response to my questioning why, for 2021, COH lists “salaries, other compensation, and employee benefits” as $487,511 with 10 people receiving the title “Individual Trustee or Director,” but the only salary going to Friedenbach (a paltry $50,340 for the listed 40-hour workweek).
On Aug 11, I reached out to Jason Law, listed as the person who possesses COH’s books and records, which the IRS requires be made available for public inspection. COH claims the records are available “on their website, another’s website, or upon request.” Law didn’t respond to my inquiry, so I reached out again, this time copying attorneys on the email and reminding him that, by law, Mr. Law must produce the records. As of press time, I haven’t received a response.
Supporters of COH continue to call my reporting “fake news,” insisting that Friedenbach doesn’t take city or taxpayer dollars and that she doesn’t have a conflict of interest regarding her involvement with OCOH. One of Friedenbach’s biggest defenders is homeless advocate Christin Evans, who sits on the Homelessness Oversight Commission (HOC) launched in May 2023 after San Francisco voters approved it through a ballot measure in November 2022 as the main body that oversees the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (thanks, voters, for yet another commission).
One of their duties is to “receive advice and recommendations from the Our City, Our Home Oversight (OCOH) Committee on the administration of Prop C (2018) funding.” Evans was key in raising money for Prop. C from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff (at the time her friend Friedenbach called her “the CEO whisperer”). And who is the “Emergency Shelter and Hygiene Liaison” for the OCOH Oversight Committee? Jennifer Friedenbach (and I hear from insiders that she “runs the show”).
Here’s a quick recap: Buddies Friedenbach and Evans raised the money to get Prop. C passed, which increased gross receipts taxes on San Francisco businesses making more than $50 million annually. Friedenbach sits on the committee that recommends how the money should be spent, while her friend Evans sits on the commission that takes their advice. If that’s not “conflict of interest” I don’t know what is. Confused yet? Don’t be. It’s just the usual incestuous City Hall appointments that keep San Francisco running like a broken clock (though I doubt city leaders are right twice a day).
Friedenbach’s OCOH title of “Emergency Shelter and Hygiene Liaison” is sadly ironic considering COH frequently buys tents for the homeless. In a 2022 tweet they proudly announced they ordered “39 3-person tents” with “distribution to come soon.” Those tents are filthy, rat-infested dens of misery where I’ve encountered inhabitants, often struggling with mental illness and addiction, covered in open sores while sleeping in piles of garbage. Adding to the irony, Friedenbach is suing San Francisco for not providing enough shelter when she actively encourages people to stay in the tents she provides. Her friend Evans also hands out tents with her pal, District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston.
Speaking of Evans, how did she get her appointment to the Homeless Oversight Commission? Well that came courtesy of Supervisor Preston, of course. I’ve written about their close ties in my Marina Times Reynolds Rap column and the frustration residents in the Haight-Ashbury (my district for nearly 30 years) had with their tent giveaways since most of the recipients set up those tents in front of homes and businesses. Evans is an odd choice for homeless oversight since she’s more about activism than action. Prior to her appointment, she was arrested after joining her COH friends at an encampment clearing. Preston, who proudly proclaims he is the “first Democratic Socialist on the Board of Supervisors” and who called for defunding police and abolishing prisons in a 2020 tweet, was sure quick to go straight to the top of the San Francisco Police Department to spring Evans. In a public records request for Preston’s text messages, I discovered an exchange about it between Preston and Chief Bill Scott.
At 12:04 p.m. on July 27, 2021, Preston texts, “Chief, I'm alarmed by this and wanted to make sure it's on your radar. Christin is well respected business owner and advocate in my district. My staff is reaching out to Mission station to get more info. I'm currently in a hearing.”
An hour later, Scott tells Preston he will look into it on his end.
At 10:22 that same night, Scott replies, “My Understanding is she was going to be issued a citation and released in the field by the SFPD officer subsequent to a private person's arrest by a security guard (private person's arrest was for trespassing). The issue as explained to me that caused her to he taken to the Hall of Justice rather than field released was she could not/or would not provide identification and the [on scene] officers could not verify her identity. I don't know what prolonged the detention at the HOJ if her identity was in fact verified. However, if she could not or can not be positively identified she will be held until tomorrow when a judge can hear the facts and make a decision to release her or not.”
Preston replies, “Thanks. I'm told she was released at some point today.”
Amazing how Preston goes from “abolish the police” to “Hey Chief Scott can you help my friend get out of jail?” That’s just one of many reasons he’s the reigning King of Hypocrite Hill.
Another week, another gem from the San Francisco Chronicle, this time about a 25-year-old woman who stole a bottle of Prosecco a week before the troubled Whole Foods in San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood shuttered. The story, by reporter Roland Li (with St. John Brand-Smith contributing) explains that Deidre Davis “resisted arrest before she was detained and booked in jail” and was charged by District Attorney Brooke Jenkins’s office with second-degree robbery, resisting arrest, and use of a deadly weapon (a glass bottle). “The case highlights the city’s complex public safety challenges and a legal system that officials and experts say must grapple with those stealing to survive, in contrast to organized criminals looking to profit,” Li writes.
Stealing a bottle of Prosecco to survive? I’m Italian, and even I’m not buying it.
Jack Lamar, a San Francisco deputy public defender serving as Davis’s attorney, was allowed to babble on about the bubbles. “I sincerely hope that her case is not being used to fuel a false and disturbing narrative that blames unhoused and mentally ill individuals for all the city’s woes. The most vulnerable members of our community need treatment and compassion. Shoplifting is a crime of desperation and poverty...” (Neither the Public Defender’s Office nor the District Attorney’s Office disclosed whether Davis was diagnosed with mental health conditions, nor was it clear whether she was homeless.) In fact, Davis was out on bail for two other cases, and wasn’t eligible for parole after being convicted in 2022 for battery in a different case. In 2017, she was convicted of assault. Li adds those minor details while still giving Lamar the most ink, but it is Jenkins who makes the most sense, stating stronger accountability is needed for “a repeat offender who continues to violate the law no matter what we do.”
After years of calling out the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition for being political activists, the San Francisco Ethics Commission has finally reached the same conclusion, fining the group, former Bicycle Coalition Advocacy Director Janice Li (now president of BART’s Board of Directors), and former executive director Brian Wiedenmeier for being unregistered lobbyists.
According to the document (which you can find here), “Respondent Wiedenmeier and Respondent Li are both former employees of Respondent Bicycle Coalition [which has a related entity, Respondent Education Fund]. Both Respondents Wiedenmeier and Li periodically engaged in contacts with City officials. Respondents Wiedenmeier and Li had a sufficient number of contacts to qualify as contact lobbyists in 2017 on behalf of Respondent Bicycle Coalition. However, Respondents Wiedenmeier and Li failed to register with the San Francisco Ethics Commission as required. Respondents Li and Wiedenmeier then continued to make additional lobbying contacts while unregistered and also failed to file monthly reports publicly disclosing their lobbying activity … Respondent Education Fund also violated state and City campaign finance law when the organization solicited political contributions from its members to oppose Proposition J on the November 8, 2022, ballot and failed to timely register and report as a political committee.”
As I often say, the Ethics Commission is toothless, and the fines reflect that: $1,000 for the Education Fund, $5,050 for the Bike Coalition and Wiedenmeier, and $5,275 for Li.
Despite this ruling, the Bike Coalition continues to receive financial support from taxpayers via the SFMTA. In 2020, they were awarded $846,649 in noncompetitive, "sole-source" contracts from the SFMTA. That means there was a non-competitive bidding process and only one supplier (source) was determined to be capable of delivering the required product or service. A database maintained by the San Francisco Controller’s Office shows the Bike Coalition also received nearly $500,000 from the SFMTA in 2019. According to their 2019 tax filings with the IRS, their entire budget that year was $968,354, which means in 2019 the Bicycle Coalition received over 50% of its funding from the SFMTA.
In 2021, they paid interim executive director Cory Pohley and advocacy director Li $105,000 and deputy executive director Janelle Wong $93,888 for working a grueling 20 hours per week each.
Contributions and grants increased from $1,047,532 in 2020 to 1,761,602 in 2021.
According to the website Meter Madness, the city is also increasing funding for San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Safe Routes to School by 31 percent. The current year’s funding was $846,689. The proposed funding for the upcoming year is $1,112,056.
To further complicate their claim of public advocacy, in 2020 Mayor London Breed nominated Jane Natoli, a member of the Bike Coalition’s Board of Directors, to the SFMTA Board of Directors. It was the Bike Coalition’s strong ties to City Hall — and in particular, to SFMTA director Jeffrey Tumlin — that helped them push through a center bike lane experiment nowhere near ready for primetime on Valencia Street despite just a 13 percent approval rating from residents.
Now even the Bike Coalition doesn’t like their Frankenlane, complaining on Twitter last month that the SFMTA “needs to immediately make conditions on Valencia safer for people biking...” They got “ratioed” (Twitter lingo for a post with more negative comments than likes), and the same thing happened when they whined on Instagram. In the immortal lyrics of Tay-Tay, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,” but it’s time to defund the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
Our #TweetOfTheWeek comes from the legendary Hank Plante, six-time Emmy and Peabody winner and retired anchor and reporter for KPIX-TV, who said about the homeless crisis, “Sorry to repeat myself but: San Francisco leaders have allowed 7,000 people to destroy an entire city.”
#WebsiteOfTheWeek: If you’re not subscribed to SF Public Safety News you should be. They cover the cases you wouldn’t read about otherwise, and some of them are doozies. Take, for example, the man sentenced to 34 months imprisonment for “robbing a bank in San Francisco only weeks after being released from prison for robbing six other city banks, three of which he robbed while on bail for robbing two of the others, and those two being robbed while he was on bail for robbing the first.” Another perk: they always name the judges who makes these inane decisions so you can add them to your “lenient judges not to vote for” list (in this case, it was Edward Chen).
#ActionOfTheWeek: Please sign this petition to save the dogs of Skid Row in Los Angeles from horrific abuse at the hands of their homeless “owners.” According to FoxLA approximately 60 pit bull type dogs are being kept in cages, chained up, or repeatedly bred to sell puppies. The recent heatwave and Hurricane Hilary have made it even more urgent. "We are asking Mayor Karen Bass and general manager of Animal Services Staycee Dains to sit down with Animal Rescue Mission and Stand Up for Pits Foundation to discuss solutions working together," the petition reads.
Despite offers of free spaying and neutering, Skid Row dog breeders refuse the services because they make money selling the puppies to buy drugs. As a pit bull guardian and longtime advocate, I am in favor of mandatory spaying and neutering — we have the law in San Francisco, and when it was implemented, San Francisco Animal Care & Control kill rates for pit bulls decreased dramatically. I reached out to Assemblymember Matt Haney, a known animal lover, and asked him to look into it. While we were talking, he informed me of another crazy law he’s hoping to change: Petty theft is a misdemeanor punishable by no more than six months in jail and $1,000, a punishment many dog owners who have lost a longterm companion due to theft believe to be too small, though it would take a new law to change this. If the dog is worth more than $950, the crime is grand theft, which may be charged as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail or a felony, punishable by up to three years in prison. That means dogs like my pit bull Skylar, adopted from San Francisco Animal Care & Control 11 years ago, are worthless in the eyes of California law. “It couldn't be introduced until next year because of bill intro deadlines but we are working on it,” Haney said.
And finally, our #MemeOfTheWeek goes to Mark Fabela. After John Chachas, chairman of legacy retailer Gump’s, published an open letter to Governor Newsom, Mayor Breed and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors saying he feared the 166th holiday season may be their last because of the “profound erosion of this city's current conditions,” Fabela tweeted “Nothing will change. Vote them all out” with a meme of Supervisor Dean Preston fiddling while Gump’s burns. It’s certainly a depressing thought, but sadly not far from the truth — we’re talking about arguably the most dysfunctional and ineffective city government in America, where ideology rules at the expense of residents, visitors, and businesses.
Gotham by Susan Dyer Reynolds is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.