Bay Area Tenants

Phase-in of Costa-Hawkins act will bring higher rents,
evictions, displacement and misery

Starting January 1st, 1999, there will be no limits on the rents that Bay Area landlords can charge new tenants. All Bay Area rent control which previously existed will be crippled due to the full phase-in of the Costa- Hawkins Act, a law passed by the California legislature in 1996. Many poor, long-term tenants will be vulnerable to evictions without cause, and entire communities may be forced out of the Bay Area.

Anyone who has been trying to find a place to live in the Bay Area in the past few months has probably noticed how bad the situation has become. A representative of Berkeley Connections, a rental referral service which profits from people’s difficulties in finding housing, reported that this is the "craziest" year that the rental market has ever seen, with up to 200 people sometimes attending the showing of a single apartment.

The booming economies of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, and San Francisco’s reputation as a livable city, has created a massive demand for housing. This allows realtors and landlords to set prices as high as they want. In San Francisco the market price of rents rose an average of 40% from 1996 to 1997, Ted Gullickson of the S.F. Tenants Union reported. Between 1997 and 1998 they rose another 25%. The situation is so serious that a study released recently by a Washington-D.C. think tank reported that in the San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area, 73% of low-income renters spend more than half of their income on housing.

At this point in Berkeley, and to a much lesser extent in Oakland, the profiteering of landlords is still at least partially checked by rent control laws and rent stabilization boards. But the full phase-in of Costa-Hawkins will end many of the existing checks on landlord power.

Costa-Hawkins’ main clause disallows all "vacancy control" stipulations in pre-existing California rent control laws. Having "vacancy control" means that when a person moves out of a rent controlled unit, the landlord cannot increase the rent that the next occupant will have to pay. Berkeley had vacancy control for 18 years prior to the introduction of Costa-Hawkins. San Francisco has never had it, but getting vacancy control has been the main push of the S.F. Tenants Union. The original Oakland rent control law of 1980 included a vacancy control clause, but this was amended in 1986 through the intervention of various landlord groups.

Under Costa-Hawkins all existing rent control laws in California must be changed to include "vacancy de- control." This means that after a tenant voluntarily moves out of a rent-controlled unit (though technically not after they are evicted) a landlord can legally raise the rent to whatever they want. But Costa-Hawkins doesn’t just introduce this rather clear, if deadly, change to rent control. It is a confusing piece of work which also manages to outlaw rent control on all single family units with leases beginning after 1996, and it introduces complicated, ambiguous restrictions on subletting. It even contains language which some S.F. landlords have interpreted to mean that they can suddenly change a renter’s terms of tenancy (such as rules dealing with pets or subletting) without consultation with the renter or even warning. These unilateral changes to a renter’s terms of tenancy are usually aimed at driving out long-term inhabitants in rent-controlled units in order to raise the rent to much higher market rates.

Though Costa-Hawkins was passed in 1996, its provisions dealing with single family residences and vacancy de-control have been slowly phased-in over the last 2 years. So far people who leased single family units after the bill was passed have only had to pay rents at the level legally allowed by local rent control laws. At the same time vacancy de-control has been limited to a maximum of two 15% increases due to voluntary vacancies during the 1996-1998 period.

What can we expect in the coming year, as the phase-in period for Costa-Hawkins ends and its full implications become more clear? For starters, the number of S.F. residents fleeing to the East Bay to find more affordable housing will swell. In S.F. the first of the year will mean an end to rent control on between 10 to 12 thousand single family homes and condos. This will mean rent increases of between 50-75% on these units, in order to bring them up to market rates.

Besides those families unable to pay these higher new rents, many tenants will be driven out of the city by landlords stepping up their efforts to drive long-term tenants out of rent-controlled units and thereby raise the rent. Though the S.F. Tenants Union reports moderate success in fighting landlords’ attempts to drive old tenants out with sudden unilateral changes to terms of tenancy, such tactics will certainly be stepped up as they become increasingly profitable for landlords. Though evictions based on illegal subletting and breach of rental agreement are still at the low level of 50 or so a year, they have increased in frequency by 100% since Costa-Hawkins was passed.

A more common dirty tactic of landlords in S.F. are so-called "owner move-in" evictions, where a landlord claims that they or a relative is going to move in to a rental unit. This tactic is almost never contested by the rent board, and its use has increased by 300% — from 300 to 1200 a year — since Costa-Hawkins passed. Many of those fleeing from San Francisco in the coming year will first look to relocate to quiet and relatively cheap Berkeley. This increased demand for housing, combined with the damage done by Costa-Hawkins to Berkeley’s formerly strong rent control laws, will mean a rapid inflation in Berkeley rents. As in S.F., landlords will begin using any dirty tactics they can in order to drive out long-term tenants and make way for richer renters. Poorer minority tenants, who are less likely to be aware of their legal rights and recourses, will be the most vulnerable to these attacks. As Berkeley fills up with rich professionals and becomes even more of an elitist lifestyle-enclave than it already is, the effects will ripple into Oakland. Because Oakland’s rent control board and ordinance are incredibly weak when compared to Berkeley, it will be even easier for the landlords of Oakland to drive out the poor and minorities. Oakland has no just-cause eviction clause in its rent laws, which means that tenants can be evicted for no reason — only increases in a tenants’ rent warrant a hearing with the rent board. And the Oakland rent board has a hard enough time getting a full quorum of appointed members in order to have an actual meeting, let alone actually dealing with renters’ problem and complaints. The efforts being waged against Costa-Hawkins in the Bay Area are paltry at best. The Oakland Tenants Union is putting their bets on a legalistically convoluted plan. At its base is public testimony made by the writers of the Costa-Hawkins act to the effect that Oakland would be exempt from the Act because it already had vacancy de-control. If Oakland can therefore be shown to be exempt from Costa-Hawkins, the Tenants Union believes that it might then be possible to campaign to have vacancy control introduced in the city. The legal headaches of such a scheme are obvious and infinite.

In San Francisco and Berkeley, the Tenants Unions’ are for now just concerned with nibbling at the edges of the problem, fighting unfair evictions caused by rampant rent profiteering whenever they can.

SB 1730 Burton is a bill coming before the California state legislature soon, aimed at restricting further landlord profiteering in California. Its main focus is to keep greedy landlords from being able to cancel the Section 8 contracts of poor, elderly, disabled people in order to evict them and raise the rent as a form of "vacancy de- control." Though the Burton bill would do several good things to help ten
ant organizing and low income renters in general, it is only the smallest beginning of a struggle for justice in housing. When it comes to using legal channels to struggle for justice in housing, Costa-Hawkins basically leaves everyone’s hands tied.

But that does not mean that Bay Area residents should simply pay up the increased rents or shuffle off into a hole and die. The masses of renters, who stand to lose so much at the hands of a minority of greedy landlords, need to take a stand against the injustice of escalating rents now. Tenants unions throughout the Bay Area need to unite with other activist organizations and community groups to organize a massive rent strike. This will demonstrate to landlords that using courts, police and rent boards to enforce their greed will no longer be tolerated. Long term tenants should not be displaced and established communities must not be destroyed in order to make way for further yuppie gentrification in the Bay Area. Costa-Hawkins must be repealed and Bay Area rents must return to an affordable level. And who knows, maybe if renters can be organized to stand up for those things, they can even come to realize en masse that landlords are really nothing but parasites and that the idea of having to pay for necessities like housing is utterly ridiculous. When people get together anything is possible…

Try contacting the Eviction Defense Network (415-431-0931), the San Francisco Tenant’s Union (415-282- 6622) or, the Oakland Tenant’s Union (510-704-5276).

The Year 2000 Problem, the Social Revolution, And You

The upcoming millennium shift has to be the most anticipated event in the history of the Christian calendar. Some people are consciously expecting the end of the world (or at least the end of the world as WE know it), while most others are simply anticipating that something will happen. As I will unfold, in these attitudes may lie an important opportunity for people interested in creating a new decentralized, non-authoritarian, socialist society.

The different feelings about the millennium in the collective unconscious of Western civilization are mirrored by the uproar surrounding the Year 2000 (Y2K) computer problem. People who already expected some kind of apocalypse see this electronic quirk as a validation of their beliefs. Others who heavily depend upon computers, to the point that they cannot imagine life without them (like, say, computer programmers) are in an uproar about the collapse of major world computer systems. Their minds have suddenly been confronted with the larger implication that the Y2K problems makes about our ridiculous over-dependence on technology and our often idiotic misuse of it. The misuse which I am referring to is the sloppy way that most important computer programs are written with the emphasis (as with everything produced in our capitalist society) on speed of production and the glitzy outward appearance of speed and complexity. With this ethic of computer programming predominant, most corporate programmers completely sacrifice the idea of creating space- efficient programs which can perform simple, utilitarian functions free of long term glitches and bugs.

With the advent of Y2K, computer programmers are beginning to see how the computer controlled society which they have helped to create is ridiculously wobbly and full of holes It has them so scared that someone recently told me about visiting a huge survivalist supply store and finding employees of Intel, Microsoft and other such corporations lined up out of the door to stock up for the forthcoming apocalypse.

But it is not the attitudes of these pathetically frightened members of the professional, managerial class which should most concern people interested in using the Y2K computer problem to spread social revolution. The emotions which we can most readily capitalize upon are the ambiguous anticipation lying in the back of the minds of the masses. Something has to happen to mark this numerological change over, and it should be something as big as the birth which this calendar commemorates. Something must come to end the lives of desperation that most people live, even in the bountiful land of America, tied to soul-crushing jobs which waste their time in unfulfilling, repetitive tasks that only serve to prop up a capitalist regime which keeps them chained to constantly escalating material desires while our social, mental and spiritual natures are increasingly stifled and perverted.

Scores of fly-by-night and corner-store prophets are waiting to take advantage of this millenarian anticipation. Their answers are on the whole nothing but pernicious superstition meant to prop up some new authoritarian, hierarchical reign. In the end they are all too small, scattered and unappealing to the majority of the population to be any threat to the current regime.

But perhaps the shining light of anarchism can brighten this millenarian darkness of superstitious obscurantist cults trying to take advantage of modern capitalism being crippled by computer problems.

And anyone who has even looked over the technical facts cannot doubt that our capitalist government will be at least partly injured by computer problems with the coming of the year 2000. Even if the California DMV has managed to safeguard its records, the systems are too widespread and variegated to avoid all computer chaos on this momentous date. The Y2K problem may well cause a majority of the electronic toys used to distract the first world masses from their enslavement to suddenly break down and stop functioning. It also has the potential to do great damage to the webs of electronic registration and observation which are increasingly used to monitor the most minute details of our lives.

The Y2K problem will certainly not bring down the U.S. government and its massive military in one fell swoop. If anyone has the monetary and technological resources to avoid such catastrophe, it would certainly be them. Even if its systems are disrupted, computers are not necessary to a large-scale repressive state. As the German Nazis and the imperialist dynasties of China proved, only violent force and perhaps well-kept paperwork are necessary. But the year 2000 may well bring the collapse of the TV-internet mind control network at a time when massively repressive militaristic emergency measures are required for America’s capitalist government to maintain control. This has the potential to suddenly make a whole lot of people aware of the ultimately repressive nature of government.

So what better time for an anarchist revolution and a libertarian socialist re-structuring of society?

What we need to keep in mind here is that its always a good day for a revolution — and January 1st, 2000 could be the best day of Ôem all. As year 00, it’s certainly got the numerological significance requirement covered. At the least the anarchist community and other groups of radical social activists need to stop buying wholesale what the capitalist press is telling us about possible Y2K problems and begin realizing the opportunities that they are offered by a massive shock to the technological systems which our modern capitalist government relies on to maintain its power. Revolution now!

Tibetan Liberation

The issue of Tibetan liberation has recently become very hot with big name liberal activists and the capitalist press in America. Both the press and American Free Tibet activists themselves often use idealized images of traditional Tibet as a simple, spiritual utopia untainted by problems of class conflict or authoritarianism. The ethos of the Free Tibet movement has the potential to alienate radical grassroots activists from the issue and cause them to dismiss it as nothing but a bourgeois new-agey cultural fetish. As someone who spent 4 months living in Tibet and Tibetan refugee camps, I both understand such dismissals and find them to be heartlessly uninformed. I write this article to show how the struggle for Tibetan liberation is about ending the misery of the Tibetan people, not about Richard Gere or the Beastie Boys.

When the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marched into Tibet in 1950, they came with promises of liberating the Tibetan masses from feudalist oppression. Traditional Tibet was certainly not (as some western liberals claim) a society where no class antagonism or capitalist style oppression existed. Nor did old Tibet’s theocratic government of Buddhist monks rule with perfect wisdom and justice. There was a level of corruption and injustice in old Tibet, as in all times and places. Yet, the true face of traditional Tibet still had far more potential for positive social change than the current brutal Chinese regime. One important proof of this is that the first action of the current Dalai Lama (Tibet’s feudalist leader) upon escaping into India was to create an exile government composed of a popularly elected parliament with the right to veto any of his own ideas or decisions.

The possibilities for positive social change in traditional Tibetan society begin with the Buddhist philosophy which has guided Tibetan culture since the religion was introduced to the country 700 years ago. When separated from the corruption of the monolithic Tibetan theocracy, we find at Tibetan Buddhism’s base a philosophy of total love and compassion for all sentient beings. Its ideal practitioners are boddhisattvas who have achieved non-attachment to the transient, material world which most of us perceive. Yet these bodhisattvas remain grounded in the material world in order to help others to achieve an equal level of compassion and enlightenment.

Though the Tibetan church has created its own pantheon of so-called Buddhist deities, Tibetan Buddhist philosophy at its simplest is basically atheistic and humanistic. Its basic tenets include an egalitarian acknowledgment of all living beings’ innate Buddha-nature, or potential for kindness, compassion and spiritual enlightenment. And, like all Buddhism, the Tibetan strain adheres to the revolutionary idea of the middle path — the concept that no one can reach any kind of enlightenment when either glutted on sensual and material pleasures or when starved and deprived.

With its Buddhist philosophical base, traditional Tibetan society was unusual throughout the world for its compassion. Anyone who spends much time with Tibetans will notice their level of ingrained courtesy and hospitality towards. Tibetan Buddhism is also a particularly optimistic lens through which to view the world. Difficulties and set-backs are fatalistically accepted as the production of accumulated karma from past lives. This allows people to more readily overcome their problems and move on to accumulating good karma (and therefore future happiness) through acts of selfless kindness. Almost all accounts from the few foreigners who visited Tibet prior to 1950 tell of a country where even the poorest peasants seemed basically happy, optimistic and carefree due to the psychological cushioning of their spiritual culture.

The precepts of their religion shaped not only the Tibetan people’s internal attitudes and treatment of each other, but also their attitude towards nature. Though the extraordinarily barren landscape of central Tibet forced the people there to rely mostly on meat as a food source, Tibetans raised only a few types of livestock for this purpose. All other animals were strictly left alone, and hunting was considered to be a very evil act. Even today, in the dingy, filthy refugee camps of northern India, this level of concern over the lives of other animals continues. At least twice in these places I witnessed Tibetans walking down the road in the rainy season with a small stick, carefully removing each slug they encounter so that it would not be run over by a fast-moving car.

As in many pre-industrial societies, environmental sustainability was important to Tibetans, often due to their culture’s religious precepts. Most livestock herders in Tibet (previous to the drastic plans of agrarian reorganization introduced by the Chinese Communists) were nomadic, moving from one area to another in order to not overgraze anywhere. This was due to the fragile vegetation on central Tibet’s high altitude plains — the extremely low rainfalls and short summer months made all livestock herders hyper- conscious about preserving the natural environment.

And, in this mountainous area with its extraordinary mineral riches, mining was seen as an attack on the earth which would bring upon the Tibetan people the wrath of various nature deities in the Buddhist pantheon.

The Tibetan people’s Buddhist heritage of compassion not only helped them to maintain a relatively high level of social and ecological harmony. It has also given them the psychological and emotional strength necessary to survive in scattered, filthy refugee camps and under the authoritarian rule of an imperialist power. And the Chinese policy in Tibet can only be described as imperialism and assimilation.

When the PLA swept into Tibet in 1950, declaring its liberation from feudalism and imperialism, almost no one in Tibet felt that they had to be liberated from anyone. Right or wrong, the majority of Tibetans identified their interests as identical with those of the theocracy’s leaders. No popular support existed for a social revolution and re-organization. Even if it had existed the traditionally xenophobic nature of Tibetan culture would have made such a mass movement only possible if the ideas originated with Tibetan people themselves, rather than the mouthpieces of Chinese leaders a world away in Beijing.

But as time went on, these issues came to matter less and less. Throughout the 1950’s the Tibetan theocracy retained some control over the nature and extent of socialist re-structuring in Tibetan society. But by 1959 when the Dalai Lama fled the country it had become clear that the Chinese government was at base concerned with assimilating the Tibetan people into Chinese society and culture in order to more easily exploit the country’s vast, untapped natural resources.

The 60’s and 70’s saw Tibet suffer all the horrors that plagued the rest of China during these years — the famines of the Great Leap Forward, the chaos and destruction of the Cultural Revolution, and more. But the Tibetans did not have this suffering inflicted upon them by the stupidity of their fellow countrymen, as elsewhere in China. They experienced it as the effect of policies instituted by an outside imperialist power with an alien value system and no appreciation for traditional culture (the vestiges of which were, for a time, completely outlawed as feudalist behavior).

At the same time as these attempts to assimilate Tibetans into mainstream Communist Chinese culture were going on, the environment of the Tibetan plateau was being exploited as rapidly as possible. Vast mining projects were undertaken in the rocky central regions, while the forests of the eastern, lower elevation areas were extensively clear-cut. Certain desert areas of northeastern Tibet were also utilized for both nuclear weapons testing and the dumping of hazardous materials from nuclear power plants and weapons production factories.

For a brief time in the mid-1980’s a more liberal
administration in Beijing encouraged a small-scale re-flourishing of traditional Tibetan culture, so long as it coincided with the economic interests of recently opened tourism in the area. But this period of tolerance ended when the 1987 Tibetan nationalist riots in Lhasa and the events in Tiannemen Square caused liberal voices in the Chinese central government to be silenced.

Economic development and population transfer have now become key to the Chinese vision of a future Tibet, sometimes referred to as China’s Wild West. Large groups of immigrants from China are offered substantial economic incentives to make otherwise undesirable relocation. The hope is that this will aid stepped up economic development in Tibet, and give the majority of Tibetans a tantalizing reason to assimilate. They will need to go to schools and become fluent in Chinese language and popular culture in order to rise from the abject poverty in which most live, and get the high-paying jobs that will allow them to drive shiny new cars, live in high rise apartments, and go out to big discos playing Chinese pop (the biggest one in central Tibet was constructed in the last few years directly in front of the Potala palace, the Dalai Lama’s former winter residence and a major pilgrimage spot for Tibetan Buddhists).

What the Chinese occupation of Tibet comes down to is whether an environmentally sustainable society based on a religion of egalitarian compassion will be engulfed by a blend of brutal authoritarianism and totally materialist, anti-human capitalism. While it can be argued that no people should have their native culture destroyed by an invader who thinks themselves superior because they have more guns, Tibet is in many ways an extremely important case because of its uniquely spiritual, pacifist pre-invasion society.

Opposition to the Chinese occupation has always been problematic. Briefly during the 1960’s a rabidly anti-Communist faction of the CIA flew groups of Tibetans to the Rockies to train them in mountain-based guerrilla warfare, and then sent them back to fight in Tibet. Even then they were hopelessly out-manned and out-gunned. At this point the Chinese army has a presence in almost every tiny Tibetan village. And all violent, militaristic opposition often faces severe criticisms from the Dalai Lama and other pacifist elements of Tibetan Buddhist society. At the same time thousands of non-violent demonstrators have also been killed, tortured and railroaded to lifetime prison terms.

In the 1980’s there was a brief, positive period when representatives of the exile government were allowed to travel throughout Tibet and attended negotiations with the Chinese central government. But the 1987 riots and several diplomatic misunderstandings ended these positive times. Now Beijing basically just seems to be waiting for the aging Dalai Lama to die. And as Beijing has become less open to negotiation, the Dalai Lama has become more desperately open. During the last few years he has been supporting a plan to scale back Tibetan demands to ask for only greater political autonomy as a state under China, rather than full liberation as a separate nation.

Things are getting desperate, as is shown by the recently announced plan of Samdhong Rinpoche, an elderly monk who currently heads the Tibetan exile parliament. He is planning to step down from his post in order to return to Tibet with a large group of followers and lead some kind of satyagraha or truth insistence campaign based on the non-violent principles of Gandhi’s civil disobedience campaigns in South Africa and India. At this point, however, his plan is only in a hyper-theoretical state.

The growing level of angry desperation and the lack of diplomatic openings can also be seen in the fact that both Tibetan radicals in India and the American scholar of Tibet Melvyn Goldstein (known to be extremely sycophantic to the Chinese government) are calling for immediate terrorist campaigns by Tibetan nationalists against important P.R.C. sites. They see such campaigns as the last chance for the cause of Tibetan independence and perhaps even for Tibetan autonomy and cultural survival.

Short of going to Tibet to practice civil disobedience and/or blow things up, the main thing that you can really do is to show solidarity with economic aid for Tibetan refugees and political support for those dissidents struggling inside Tibet. However it is also extremely important that all activists and radicals who oppose capitalism, authoritarianism, economic imperialism, and environmental destruction become aware of the situation in Tibet. Only with awareness can we ever hope to take advantage of any future opportunities for stronger action in this struggle. For more information on the issue or on how you can become involved, try contacting the following organizations:

Bay Area Friends of Tibet,
2288 Fulton St. #312,
ph. 548-1271, 548-5879;
Tibetan Aid Project,
2910 San Pablo Ave.,
ph. 848- TIBET or 800-33-TIBET;
Milarepa, 2350 Taylor St., S.F.,
474-0866 or 888-MILAREPA.