African American community leaders stood with State Sen. Scott Wiener on Monday in a public rebuke of what Wiener called a “false and offensive” ad campaign sponsored by a well-funded Los Angeles activist comparing his housing density legislation to San Francisco’s controversial urban renewal programs of previous decades.
Wiener’s legislation, Senate Bill 50, would require cities to allow for denser and taller construction near transit lines. The bill has drawn opposition from local governments, including San Francisco’s, because it takes away local control, and from critics who say it requires more protections for tenants and for low-income communities at risk of gentrification.
The television advertisement and mailer campaign by the non-profit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, headed by Michael Weinstein, prominently featured civil rights activists such as James Baldwin and Dorothy Counts. Baldwin is quoted on the flyer saying “San Francisco is engaging in something called urban renewal, which means moving the Negroes out.”
The flyers, which misspell Wiener’s name multiple times, declared the bill to be a “hand out to greedy developers” that would displace working and middle-class communities of color.
Baldwin’s quotes on the flyer are pulled from a 1963 television interview on San Francisco’s now infamous “urban renewal” campaign, which displaced thousands of people from the Fillmore neighborhood, the majority of them African American.
“It was really a despicable act, to try to take advantage of very horrific tragedy that happened here in San Francisco and other cities, under the term ‘urban renewal,’ where entire neighborhoods were demolished,” Wiener said.
Prominent figures in the local African American community said the campaign material had gone too far.
“We don’t need anyone to pimp the African American’s pain for pity or political gain,” said Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Jacqueline Flin, the executive director for the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s San Francisco office, said “we reject these tactics that use our black faces and black history to manipulate the truth.”
This is not the first time Wiener and Weinstein have locked horns.
In a barrage of 13 tweets on April 16, one day after the launch of Weinstein’s campaign against the proposed housing legislation, Wiener called Weinstein a “bully obsessed with abusing HIV healthcare funds to attack me.”
In the tweets Wiener traced the origins of their conflict to 2014 when he prevented Weinstein from opening a pharmacy in the Castro neighborhood. Wiener went on to tweet that Weinstein had become “California’s NIMBY-In-Chief, funding campaigns and groups whose purpose is to stop new housing.”
However, Rene Christian Moya, director of the housing division of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, disputed Wiener’s claim in an interview with the Examiner.
“It is deeply unhelpful to try and deflect from the very real political criticisms that we have leveled against Sen. Wiener,” Moya said.
Moya defended the mailer campaign, saying it drew out “historical continuity between prophecies of urban renewal in the 1960s to gentrification in the present day.”
“While that history is painful, it is also necessary to talk about how gentrification today is painful, and we need to be having this conversation, as difficult and as painful as that may be.” Moya said.
The senate bill came out of the housing committee earlier this month and will go to the senate governance and finance committee on Wednesday.