Pro-density ‘BARF’ loses election, must ditch toxic candidate

In a recent clash between housing-density criers and environmentalists, the green team won.

The unfortunately named San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (BARF) failed in its bid to stack the local Sierra Club chapter with its chosen candidates.

In what one member of the group called a “landslide” on Twitter, BARF’s candidates for the environmentally focused Sierra Club board were outvoted nearly three to one.

The incumbents — Howard Strassner, John Rizzo, Arthur Feinstein and Susan Vaughan — won handily, as did their ally Barry Hermanson. The tally is preliminary and was leaked by BARF over the weekend, but the wins are confirmed.

Fair’s fair: Sierra Club members voted and backed the longtime environmental advocates. But as much as On Guard respects BARF’s passion for political engagement, one thing is now clear: They’ve got to pull Donald Dewsnup from the limelight.

Dewsnup, one of BARF’s candidates for the Sierra Club board, only garnered 170 votes, versus Strassners’ 799, at last count.

Despite his minuscule backing, Dewsnup also netted most of the controversy, and BARF’s political message was lost in the shuffle.

The Sierra Club’s local chapter is an environmental group with some muscle, weighing in on projects across San Francisco. They’ve long supported renewable energy program CleanPowerSF, and were the lone wolves opposing installation of astroturf soccer fields by Ocean Beach.

BARF flaunted a narrower view of the Sierra Club, which took past positions against dense housing projects for myriad nuanced reasons. This raised BARF’s bile.

The group promotes a build-build-build mentality, and it unleashed opposition candidates and recruited new Sierra Club members to vote for them. One of those candidates was Dewsnup.

The mustachioed machinator plays politics for keeps. On Twitter, he’s notorious among politicos and activists for aggressive tactics, which some have characterized as bullying.

Now, after his resounding loss, Dewsnup says the Sierra Club incumbents cheated.

In a web post to the BARF Google group, Dewsnup wrote NIMBYs “can go in the field pushing their self-prescribed inward looking exclusive agenda; poisoning the well.”

Dewsnup is surely one to talk.

A recent VICE News piece alleged he obtained a ballot in the recent District 3 supervisor race, even though he lives in another district (he publicly Tweeted a photo of a ballot marked with a vote for candidate Julie Christensen) and was allegedly sanctioned for bullying tactics on the local community site, Nextdoor. Dewsnup’s alleged aggression resulted in someone filing for a restraining order, after testimony from local politico Larry Bush.

Even his own colleagues at BARF questioned his tactics.

“Can you explain why you had a ballot for Julie when you live in [District] 8?” BARF member Armand Domalewski asked Dewsnup in the Google group post.

Domalewski questioned Dewnsup’s accusations that Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who defeated Christensen in last month’s election, evicted tenants “when you clearly knew you had no proof for it,” as well as Dewsnup’s claims that Peskin was a womanizer.

“I disliked Peskin as much as you,” he wrote, “but it doesn’t help anyone for you to make unsubstantiated allegations.”

Noting the Nextdoor allegations, Domalewski said, “getting muted by 54 people is quite the feat.”

For On Guard, a less publicized moment is more troubling: Dewsnup was arguing with Twitter user Patrick Connors and tweeted a retort at him trying to liken Connors to the recently deceased tenants rights advocate Ted Gullicksen.

From the context, a heated argument, it appeared Dewsnup was trying to insinuate something negative about Connors by likening him to Gullicksen.

Gullicksen, who died in October 2014, personally saved thousands from eviction, whether by direct counseling or through writing tenant protection laws. Gullicksen risked jail time cracking open abandoned buildings with a bolt cutter so the homeless could safely sleep inside.

It appears Dewsnup used a dead man to take a swing at a political opponent. That’s just low.

A BARF ally on social network news-site Reddit is already recruiting more pro-density allies to join BARF’s cause, saying it needs 2,000 supporters to beat back the Sierra Club.

Next Sierra Club election, we may see a similar fight all over again.

Good for them. Democracy is healthy, and BARF should run candidates it believes in.

By the same virtue, the Sierra Club should have to defend its positions. If they’re right, and they organize, they’ll win.

But BARF should drop public support of any future candidacy of Dewsnup. Whatever politics you believe in, everyone should agree to engage in healthy debate.

You don’t need Trump-like toxicity to win elections. It just makes me want to barf.

This piece has been corrected to reflect that Larry Bush did not file a restraining order, but offered testimony to another party who did, against Mr. Dewsnup. The Examiner regrets the error.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email him at

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