Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Gavin Newsom”

Mortgage Lenders are Pissing Their Pants – Roger Ingalls

It’s brilliant! Citizens may finally have a weapon to fight the financial industry shysters. County and city governments are considering the use of eminent domain to seize mortgages and then help owners in those communities refinance their homes at fair market value.

Eminent domain is normally used by local governments to seize property needed for highways, infrastructure, and other public works that are projected to benefit the greater community. Seizing mortgages is a slight twist on the process but, in the same vein, it is being considered for the purpose of ensuring the long term viability and prosperity of local communities.

No doubt the financial industry is all fired up and worried. They’re pursuing a full court press to quiet and scare local politicians who are trying to help their constituents. Lenders know that if this sticks, there will be an avalanche and their recklessly conjured house of cards will come crashing down. Mortgage lenders (banks) and their special interests are threatening litigation and using fear tactics such as promising wholesale leading boycotts of communities.

Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has stepped up to the plate and is trying to give local governments a fair opportunity by publicly calling on the SIFMA (finance industry special interest) to “cease making threats to the local officials…We must think big and help our local governments develop solutions — because the industry and federal government have not.” He sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, asking federal prosecutors to investigate any attempts by Wall Street investors and government agencies to “boycott” California communities that are considering such moves.

The financial industry must view eminent domain mortgage seizer as a legitimate “fight back” strategy because they are responding ferociously. There are a handful of cities and counties across the nation considering this idea and we should do our best to support them.

Wall Street and the financial community rewrote the laws that govern their industry and within eight short years crashed the global economy. They then pressured their Washington buddies for a bailout and came out of the mess bigger and more powerful. Home owners were left with devalued assets while the banks were allowed to keep receivable notes at the original high value.

The eminent domain strategy proposed by local governments could be the great equalizer. Spread the word, it’s brilliant!

McDonald’s: Diet for a Bankrupt America

Jon Stewart and the Daily Show couldn’t resist a dig at San Francisco in their first show of the year (Monday, 03. January 2011).

I can rarely resist a dig at McDonald’s. I didn’t here, or here, and couldn’t help mentioning this about San Francisco legislation to force McDonald’s to raise the nutritional value of their children-directed Happy Meals or face a ban on toys being included to induce children to pressure their parents to eat at the Golden Arches.

Hans Bader takes an opposite stance in this article attacking the legislation and sharing his disdain about the Californiazation of America. I will leave it to you to read my post and Hans’ perspective.

What I want to focus this blog on is the feeling that there are probably three main areas where we can pull ourselves out of the recession and into a competitive 21st Century economy.

The first concerns the war machine – the need to be constantly subsidizing a war somewhere. This feels the most complicated and I am going to skip it for this post at least. The second regards sustainable energy and possibly will help solve the first as a not-so-fringe benefit.

However what is relevant for this blog post is the feeling that we simply cannot afford bad health and this will always begin with nutrition. There is a $1 trillion-dollar health (or rather sickness) industry and it is, for the main part, possible to tackle.

We can do this by focusing on the lifestyle and diet we adopt. Now I don’t want to change this great country to a bunch of Tai-Chi loving vegans (actually, to be perfectly honest, I do), but it just seems that food that is nutritionally devoid of anything of worth might be cheap in the short run, but is bankrupting us in the long run.

Not only is this a sick nation, but sickness leads to a lack of productivity and creativity, and these are the resources we need to rebuild America. For a great overview of the sickness industry and an optimistic look into the future, try Paul Zane Pilzer’s The Next Trillion.

There is hope. There is always hope – if not for us, then for our children, but not if they learn about health and values from Ronald McDonald.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com


Project Homeless Connect™

Volunteering at Project Homeless Connect™ is always challenging. Every two months, dozens of support agencies gather under one roof to provide a broad array of services and counseling to the homeless of San Francisco. I love the fact that the auditorium is next to the Civic Center, right within view of the city legislators. I also deeply appreciate the commitment of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was one of the initiators of the project. He has come every time that I’ve volunteered to thank the volunteers and talk to some of the homeless.

I once told him how much I appreciate his support and commitment. He didn’t bat an eyelid as he reached for my hand and said: “Oh no. I appreciate your commitment.” Yes I know he is a politician, but I really believe he meant it, that he is genuinely passionate about Project Homeless Connect.

For those volunteers who are not part of an agency, our jobs involve interviewing, data tracking and accompanying homeless people to the different agency areas. I usually do the latter where an important element is to just listen to their stories. I rarely leave at the end of the day without hearing something that is deeply moving. I return to my warm home, my loving wife and sons, knowing that tomorrow because I am healthy, I will hit the gym before heading to a job that I love. I am not rich or famous, have not realized my dream of becoming an author of social commentary, but the experience reminds me that I am a darn lucky man.

“The mission of Project Homeless Connect™ (PHC) is to connect San Francisco’s homeless with the system of care that will help them move off the streets and into housing.” (From the PNC website).

Just over five years ago, the mayor and about 300 volunteers surveyed the homeless in the Tenderloin, one of SF’s poorest neighborhoods. From their responses, Project Homeless Connect™ was born.

Again from the website: “Widespread foreclosures, the demands of returning veterans, and the reduction of federal funding for affordable housing create constant challenges in a declining economy. Dealing with the vexing problem requires intervention not only by government but also the community at large.

Today, over 1,000 community volunteers partner with government agencies, nonprofits, and the private sector every two months to provide a one-stop shop of health and human services for homeless San Franciscans. During PHC’s events, participants are able to accomplish in one day what might normally take eight months.

Hundreds of corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies provide PHC and its clients with services such as dental care, eyeglasses, family support, food, HIV testing, housing, hygiene products, medical care, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, SSI benefits, legal advice, California identification cards, voice mail, employment counseling and job placement, wheelchair repair, methadone, needle exchange, and more.
As of February 2010, 20,292 volunteers have provided services to more than 30,844 homeless and poor San Franciscans.”

Finally, the federal government’s Interagency Council has declared Project Homeless Connect™ a National Best Practice Model on Homelessness. If this isn’t validation enough, PHC is being replicated in over 200 cities across the United States, as well as in Canada and Australia.

I’m proud to be a San Francisco-ite.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Food Justice San Francisco Style

Our City (capital C intended) by the bay has a proud history of food justice and environmental policy. We are perhaps one of the first cities to make the connection between low academic scores and nutrition.

Banning sugar-saturated soda in the school grounds or plastic bags from groceries is one thing. Taking on McDonald’s, however, now that is brave. McDonald’s have no compulsion to take on anyone and everyone, threaten them with court action and intimidate them until they back down. There is a roll call on the McLibel DVD of all the newspapers, magazines and talk shows that have crossed swords with McDonald’s. All have meekly sheathed their swords and mumbled an apology rather than go to court.

Of course, there were two young people who refused to back down and embarked on what became the longest court case in British history. Click here for the factual account, and here for the fictional one.

Back to San Francisco and a city ordinance has been proposed that will ban McDonald’s from offering a toy with the purchase of a Happy Meal unless there is a limitation on calories and the addition of fruit and vegetables. This proposal is, by the way, aimed at all fast food chains, but McDonald’s Happy Meals seems to have provided the impetus for the initiative.

McDonald’s, naturally, aren’t impressed with a Left Coast concern for growing childhood obesity or the plummeting school grades that are becoming common around our country. When Supervisor Eric Mar proposed the law, McDonald’s Corporation sent a team of executives to City Hall to protest.

The rest of us should feel grateful to McDonald’s – you can fight City Hall. McDonald’s claimed that this proposal would deny their customers the freedom to chose and is an attack on their and other businesses models of marketing.

To be fair, McDonald’s are not the only business exploiting children. On the other hand, City Hall is not just going after the fast-food industry. Our Mayor, Gavin Newsom (Link) has signed an order banning sweetened sodas from vending machines on city property, broadened a ban on tobacco sales in pharmacies to include grocery stores and big-box stores that also have pharmacies.

But with election season looming, the mayor has slowed his support. His opponent in the lieutenant governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, has accused him of trying to be the food police.

Karen Wells, who is McDonald’s VP for Nutrition and Menu Strategy claims that it is the responsibility of the parent to decide what their child should eat. Fair point. She also claimed that it would be difficult to implement. Now you’ve lost me.

“It’s different from what we’re doing today and different from what we’ve done for 25 years, successfully,” Wells said.

Now you really have lost me. It is a generally accepted principle that the companies who survive and thrive for decades do so because they are able to adapt to changing consumer consciousness and demand. While a multinational corporation is governed by the bottom line, surely there must be some acknowledgment of society’s need. In fact, if we all die of obesity connected disease, who will buy the burgers?

McDonald’s nutrition director, Cynthia Goody, points out that there is no evidence suggesting childhood obesity would be reduced by requiring a fruit or vegetable with all meals. It doesn’t deserve a comment…

…But I can’t resist.

If children see McDonald’s as an amazing place to go to and eat, couldn’t McDonald’s provide an educational example, a role model, for healthy nutrition? If children get used to eating fruit and vegetables at such cool places as McDonald’s, won’t it make eating fruit and vegetables at home easier?


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com




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