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Meeting Information

Full Commission

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San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission
Excelsior Neighborhood Meeting
Monday, October 5, 2009 at 5:30 PM
James Denman Middle School Auditorium
241 Oneida Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112


1. Call to Order and Roll Call
The meeting was called to order at 5:50 pm by Chair McCarthy.

Present: Commissioners Alexander, Gonzalez, Haile, Jones, Lingad-Ricci, McCarthy, Melgarejo, and Pérez.

Not Present: Commissioners Enssani (unexcused), Fuentes (excused), Moses (unexcused), and Ng (excused).

Staff Present: Adrienne Pon, Executive Director-Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs; Sally Leung, Executive Coordinator; Richard Whipple, City Hall Fellow; and Whitney Chiao, Public Administration Intern.

2. Welcome and Introductions (Commissioner Angus McCarthy, Chair)
Chair McCarthy welcomed the community to the Immigrant Rights Commission’s full Commission meeting. He announced that the Commission holds a few meetings each year in different districts and was pleased to be at District 11 to listen to the residents’ concerns. The purpose of the Immigrant Rights Commission is to advise the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors on issues related to immigrant communities, so the Commission hopes to hear comments from the public in order to provide more detailed recommendations to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors. The Chair introduced the IRC Commissioners and the department heads present at the meeting. He then introduced District 11 Supervisor, Supervisor John Avalos.

3. Opening Remarks (Supervisor Avalos, District 11)

Supervisor Avalos thanked the Immigrant Rights Commission and department representatives who came to the Neighborhood meeting to listen to the concerns of residents in District 11. He also thanked the residents if District 11 who were present at the meeting. During the meeting, the Supervisor hopes to discuss the current economics recession, as the recession is still bottoming out and his district has been hit hard.  A lot of buildings and real estate have been vacated and related jobs have been lost; the number of foreclosures has been increasing and general services are still lacking, and Supervisor Avalos hopes to touch upon these subjects as well as various related subjects over the course of the meeting.

Supervisor Avalos is also proud of the policy passed today regarding adjudicated youth. Previous legislation regarding youth also arrested youth that did not commit felonies, and made it very difficult for them to proceed in the legal system. The new legislation written by Supervisor David Campos requires that those who commit felonies to appear in court beforehand. Although the legislation is a controversial issue due to high-profile murders connected to undocumented individuals from last year, Supervisor Avalos supports the legislation because it allows due process for all youth, and feels that it is important that it is recognized. The legislation is also supported by the Public Safety Committee and eight Board members. During the meeting, he would also like to hear feedback from the community regarding the legislation.

Supervisor Avalos then announced that he would be answering questions throughout the meeting, and would like department heads to immediately respond to any questions or comments raised by the public.

4. Action Item: Approval of minutes from September 14, 2009 meeting

Minutes approved with edit to item number 4 to read “Incoming Commissioner Melgarejo and Outgoing Commissioner Chew” moved by Commissioner Alexander, seconded by Commissioner Haile. However, the minutes were later reviewed and shown to already be correct.

5. Public Comments/Testimony

Gretchen Merkle spoke on the legislation passed earlier in the day regarding undocumented youth, and felt that it was outrageous to give illegal youth the right to due process, which she feels is a right permitted solely for citizens. With the legislation, citizens have to wait until an illegal immigrant commits a felony, not just a crime, before they are deported. Ms. Merkle stated that her son had to call her for a ride home because he was wearing a red jacket and was afraid to ride the bus wearing gang-affiliated colors. She feels that allowing illegal youth to reside in San Francisco ends up becoming a burden to taxpayers and hurts legal immigrants and their programs. Ms. Merkle also brought up the issue of people who live in garages, an issue she has raised with the permits office but has not received a response yet. She concluded that the current policies are breaking the backs of the middle class.

Lulu Rodríguez thanked the Commissioners and Supervisor Avalos for coming out to listen to the community. Ms. Rodríguez is a member of SFOP and would like to speak on behalf of the immigrant community, who work very hard to support themselves because they cannot do so in their home countries. She believes that people have the right to live with dignity, and that all children have the right to education. She has been attending meetings for the last six months, and although a lot of discussion has taken place, no changes have happened yet. She hopes that they can work together to see changes in the community.

Terrence Valen, director of the Filipino Community Center, a five-year old organization with twelve groups that educates immigrants of their rights, came to speak on the challenges that youth and immigrants face in the city. Youth face violence in the community; a youth was found possessing a knife at school because he was getting attacked by other students and needed a way to defend himself. Under the Mayor’s old policy regarding undocumented youth, that person would be been deported. Immigrants are also the first ones targeted during an economic recession; Mr. Valen wants these attacks to stop. He also stated that the waiting time for Filipinos to come to the United States is 25 years, which is why many of them come to the US. illegally. The system allowing people to enter the U.S. is broken, and ICE raids checkpoints. Mr. Valen wants to make sure that the community is protected.

Anamaria Loya, Executive Director of La Raza Centro Legal, interacts with immigrants on a daily basis and is proud of the vote passed by the Public Safety Committee and Supervisor Avalos’s words at the morning meeting; she is glad to be part of a city with an Immigrant Rights Commission. An article that Ms. Loya recently read stated that during a recession, Hispanics and Africans experience depression. She has observed this in her work at La Raza, where people who come to work for the Day Laborers Program were previously those who hired the day laborers. During recessions, people often become scapegoats, and she is glad that there is due process for youth. Right now people need jobs, services tailored to their needs, such as legal and family services, justice so that they are not scapegoated, and the Sanctuary City Ordinance.

Juan Pardell came to the meeting to ask how much the City is spending. He is against illegal immigration and is concerned for the quality of life for legal residents in San Francisco. All residents want to succeed, but the City must also acknowledge the resources that it has; if tax revenues decrease, then the amount of resources donated to services must also decrease. He would like information from the Immigrant Rights Commission or Supervisor Avalos that quantifies how much is being spent on immigrant services. In response to Juan Pardell’s statement, Supervisor Avalos stated that everyone receives a share of the services provided by the City; residents receive benefits such as police protection. Making the living situation more desperate and difficult for residents makes the city more dangerous, and they would like to make the City hospitable to all residents. However, the Supervisor can request information on behalf of Mr. Pardell regarding how much money is being spent on immigrant residents.

Mario de Mira came to speak and provided a personal perspective of his concerns. One concern is for the working class when the economic climate improves and development in the district is renewed. As a child, he moved five times due to gentrification and because he was not in the tax bracket that allowed his family to own property. Many people are currently in the same situation, living in cabin quarters. He also spoke on juvenile justice-  he came to the United States as a legal immigrant but was caught up in the legal system. He participated in programs that helped him turn his life around, an example that youth programs are effective. He now works with youth and seniors. He wants people to consider the silver linings in the legislation that was passed today.

Joyce Calagos, has lived in the neighborhood since 1964 and has been a part of the Church of Epiphany and the San Francisco Organizing Project, wants to ensure that all residents have housing, public safety, education and health care. Her parish has recently held workshops on legal immigration. She asked how people could live life to the fullest if they did not have the resources to do so.

Laura Melgarejo works at PODER in the Mission District but also works with kids at Balboa High School. There is a negative stereotype of Latinos which results from a broken system; she pointed out that many people did not attend the morning meeting regarding undocumented youth because they were at school. If the people want to move forward as a city, they must find the real cause of problems instead of fearing and blaming others.

Juan Carlos Esteban thanked the Supervisor for fighting for the rights of immigrants. A lot of people from the countryside come here to work for a living and it hurts to see how immigrants are treated when they contribute to the City and make life more beautiful by working in the countryside to provide food at lower prices, and wives stay at home so the husband can work. It breaks his heart to know that some immigrants lose their lives coming to the US, that they are willing to sacrifice so much. Mr. Esteban is going to San Dimas, where he will be doing outreach to gang members, which he has been doing for the last 10-15 years. He feels that reaching out to youth in Juvenile Hall is what really helps them; many children come from broken families and they help them by moving forward, instead of pushing them back into the legal system.

Lupe Arreloa, a staff member from the Human Rights Commission, is the daughter of two immigrants and is proud that her parents raised all children to go to college. She raised the issue of racism related to housing; many tenants are not aware of their rights, and landlords rent out their rooms and threaten to report immigrants to ICE if they don’t accept an increase in rent. Landlords justify their actions with racism, which has been proliferated by the media. A state law passed last year says that landlords cannot ask tenants about their immigration status before or during their tenancy. A law passed this year by President Obama states that tenants can stay in a foreclosure until the house is sold, and then must receive 90 days notice before moving out.

Cristy Johnson, from the Excelsior Action Group, said that small business owners and workers are suffering from increasing fines and fees, which are putting small business entrepreneurs out of business. There were no food vendors at the Excelsior Street Fair because fines increased drastically. She would like the IRC to work with the Small Business Commission to study the effects of policies on small business and to consider reducing fines. Small businesses create jobs that help stimulate the economy, and these micro-businesses help owners become financially independent and move into empty store lots. In response to Ms. Johnson’s statement, Mike Farrah, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services stated that the City has informed departments that they need to tighten their belts, including full-cost recovery from events in order to reduce deficits, which results in increased fines.

Jacquie Chavez said that she was inspired by Mr. Esteban’s testimony and wanted to thank everyone who helped organize tonight’s meeting. She moved to the Excelsior neighborhood in 1972 and since then has raised a family here. She wishes that there were more children in the neighborhood and that she had the resources and tools to give to parents, to the PTA and the principal to reach out to immigrant parents and help get them legalized. The community is predominantly Latino and people need to step up to the plate to help out.

Bonnie Sherk proposed that green alternatives be used to aid immigrants. She urged agencies to put money into green skill training for immigrants for jobs. Most attention is centered around solar and wind power alternatives, but green infrastructure is also becoming increasingly noticed, which aligns with cultures that are land-based. This training and acquired skill set would help improve the Excelsior, Bernal Heights, Chinatown, and all other neighborhoods, possible helping people to open their own businesses.

Ana Rivera has lived in the US for 26 years and has realized the American dream; she raised three kids that she sent to college and owns a house. However, last week she received a ticket for making an illegal U-turn. During the procedure, the police didn’t want to see their legal papers, and she felt as though she and her husband were victims of racial profiling. She filed a complaint, but has not received a response. She wondered why police go after drivers instead of criminals and graffiti artists, and wants police to treat citizens equitably. In response to Mrs. Rivera’s testimony, SFPD Deputy Chief Kevin Cashman assured her that they do not condone such behavior, and that she can make a formal complaint with the Office of Citizen Complaints. Joyce Hicks, Director of the Office of Citizen Complaints, said that the Civilian Oversight Department also receives complaints of police misconduct.

Rachel Ebora, Executive Director of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center and on behalf of the Immigrant Rights Defense Committee, applauded the legislation that was passed this morning. With the passage of the legislation, one thing has been made clear: that the work of San Franciscans to value and protect lives requires coordination, and that the IRC can help city wide, with the Board of Supervisors, to create a more welcoming Sanctuary City Ordinance.

Frank Chu announced that he went to City Hall to the immigration hearing and that he had been filmed.

Quin Lan stated that he used to work as a substitute teacher at Balboa High School, and that tonight was the first night he had been back at the school in 40 years. He would like to see that car owners get the choice to have their cars towed or get the chance to repark their cars, since towing is currently mandatory for some violations. He also proposed a one year moratorium on removing illegal housing units, as many people have in-laws who live downstairs from them and also allows them to save money. He is also concerned about trees that are being cut down because their roots raise the cement; there is no action or enforcement for those who cut down tree illegally. Finally, he has an environmental action report which is expiring soon, and he requested that the report be made valid indefinitely.

Emil DeGuzman, a resident of District 11 and a staff member of the Human Rights Commission, explained his perspective of the problems faced by residents, as many of them bring their concerns to the HRC. Tenants receive provisions to compensate for being evicted, but the act of getting evicted is still very traumatic. It is helpful for immigrants to have an impartial party such as the HRC, which has an Equity Advisory subcommittee that can listen to problems and make recommendations to the full Commission, which in turn can be presented to the Board of Supervisors.

 Mike Brown said that the inner city used to have a program at Balboa High School for youth. He doesn’t want to see violence increasing among Latino populations. Some neighborhoods provide safehouses, such as Huckleberry House, that are provided for youth, but nothing similar exists for youth in the Bayview and Oceanview neighborhoods. He wants residents to support youth and the community.

Eric Quezada, is the son of two immigrants and the Executive Director of Dolores Street Community Services, which is a shelter for male Day Laborers. At Dolores Street Community Services, they have not received any complaints of people living in shelters. The cost of aiding immigrants should not be the question, the real question is what the cost of war is, what the cost of universal public healthcare is. He believes that it is important for everyone to have the right of due process, and for people to fight the feelings of nativism and xenophobia, and for San Francisco to stand up in the comprehensive immigration reform debate.

Jose Morales recalled when Supervisor Avalos was an assistant to Supervisor Daly, and commended Supervisor Avalos for speaking out against people who abuse their power in City Hall. He finds it incredible that many people have money but cannot pay taxes, that $4.7 trillion dollars was given to the financial sector but 500,000 children were cut from receiving health care. He is a victim of the Ellis Act. His landlord changed the number on his building, resulting in an eviction from his home of 40 years.

6. Questions and Answers/Dialogue with City Departments

Eileen Hirst from the Sheriff’s Department, stated that if any service providers or tenants felt that they were in danger of facing eviction or foreclosure, they can call Eviction Assistance (of the Sheriff’s Civil Division).

Jennifer Rakowski, from the Rent Board, stated that the key resource for keeping neighborhoods together is the San Francisco Rent Ordinance; if tenants live in a home with at least two units, foreclosure of the home is not reason for eviction. If tenants believe that the Ellis Act is being implemented wrongly, they may file a complaint with the Rent Board.

SFPD Deputy Chief Kevin Cashman announced that the Police Department is making changes to their policy of towing vehicles with unlicensed vehicle operators. The old and current policy stated that if an unlicensed driver is pulled over for a moving violation, he/she would receive two citations and the vehicle would be towed with a 30 day impoundment hold. The new towing policy to be implemented on November 1, 2009, states that a vehicle will be towed if it is a hazard, there is a risk of theft or vandalism, if there is continued illegal operations if the vehicle is not towed, or the operator has had a repeat violation within the last six months. The vehicle may be moved by a licensed operator to a private party’s residence; if there is no licensed vehicle operator at the site, the police will assist the party in finding a licensed operator. The new policy is being drafted by three Police Commissioners, but has not yet been presented before the full Police Commission. When the policy has been finalized it will be available in a pamphlet in five different languages. Commissioner Haile asked when the 20 minute grace period began. The Deputy Chief responded that the party has 20 minutes from the time of the initial stop for the licensed operator to arrive to operate the vehicle; the police department does not want on-duty officers to devote the majority of their time waiting for a car to be driven away. However, if the licensed operator arrives before the towing company, he may also get the vehicle back. Police are unable to do anything concerning the fines because they are mandated by the State; complaints need to be addressed to the Office of Citizen Complaints or the Police Supervisor. Commissioner Melgarejo thanked the Deputy Chief for the new policy, because many people have been working to find a solution to this problem and she is glad that a solution has been formed.

Maria Guillen from the Department of Adult and Aging Services stated that her department offers programs specifically tailored to immigrants; these include a naturalization service program, classes on how to obtain citizenship, ESL classes, and services from legal service providers. However, due to budget cuts, City College is considering cutting back on ESL instructors, which will have a direct impact on immigrants. The department has good programs with high rates of success; they also have four legal service providers. Ms. Guillen was also moved by Mr. Esteban’s testimony, and understands the problem and impact of losing funds. The residents of San Francisco are not just statistics, but human beings, and she will do whatever she can to help.

A staff member from 311 Customer Service reminded San Franciscan residents that the 311 phone line is available 24/7 with information on city services. The phone line can answer questions or direct callers to the pertinent department, and provide translation services in approximately 120 languages.

Adrienne Pon, Executive Director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs spoke about the 2010 Census, and asked the community and departments for their assistance in making the census count for San Francisco successful. Each person who is not counted results in $300.00 of lost funding per year, which is the equivalent of 40 senior meals. The census count impacts funding, services, and determines the number of congressional seats allocated to California.
7. Adjournment

Chair McCarthy thanked the Supervisor and his staff, the IRC and staff, department representatives and community members for attending the meeting. He also invited all interested persons to attend future Commission meetings, as well as the comprehensive immigration reform symposium on November 9, 2009.

The meeting was adjourned by Chair McCarthy at 7:30 pm.