Hospital Held Hostage: Tenants Group Disgusted by Landlords' "Blackmail" but then Declares that Two can Play at that Game

sfgh-main.jpgYes, Virginia, a debate over water and sewage that could cost tenants $5 to $15 a month might derail the $887.4 million General Hospital bond measure.

By Joe Eskenazi

Proposition A -the massive bond measure to rebuild General Hospital- is supported by the mayor, all 11 supervisors and has the written backing of every Bay Area political, religious, labor or community leader capable of signing his or her name to a page.

You knew an ugly fight would break out.

Last week, a landlords' group made waves by filing papers to form a "No on Prop. A" group and threatening to flood advertising dollars into undermining the bond measure - unless, of course, the city approved wholly and totally unrelated legislation allowing property owners to pass through a higher percentage of water and sewage bills to their tenants.

This afternoon, tenants' groups fired back, excoriating the landlords' attempts as "extortion" and "blackmail" to bursts of righteous applause at the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee. But then things got weird. After tearing apart the landlords -who didn't show at the meeting by the way- for threatening the needy population who utilize General Hospital over a matter of a few bucks, the tenants groups went ahead and did the same thing.

"The Tenants Union is now in support of Prop. A, but will reconsider that if this pass-through is passed on to tenants," said Ted Gullicksen, the director of the San Francisco Tenants Union. "If the landlords want to play that way, the tenants can play that way."

There's a word for this, but it ain't in English: Chutzpah.

In essence, Gullicksen is putting it this way: "I think we can agree that holding needy folks hostage is wrong. And, if you don't ... well, say hello to my little friend! Everyone down on the ground! This conference room is going to Cuba!"

After the meeting, Gullicksen said this was no bluff - "It's for real. If the landlords want to play this game and the supervisors want to play this game, well then the tenants are forced to play this game." As to whether this was essentially cutting off one's nose to spite one's face - more tenants than landlords are going to General Hospital - Gullicksen said this was a matter of priorities. The Tenants Union has to look out for its members' rent and eviction protection before concerning itself with their health care.

All of which begs the question - why are we playing this game? It's not possible to overstate how unrelated the massive hospital bond measure is to the landlords' proposed water and sewage pass-through. The landlords could have demanded hundreds of free pizzas and 49ers tickets in exchange for not attacking Prop. A and it wouldn't have been any different.

Incidentally, Supervisors Gerardo Sandoval, Sophie Maxwell, Sean Elsbernd and Aaron Peskin (who previously referred to discussing landlords' demands as "negotiating with terrorists") voted to send the measure to the Oct. 21 Board of Supervisors meeting with no recommendation. If the warring parties are good on their words, someone is going to go out of their way to pull the rug out from under the hospital bond no matter how the supes vote.

Drama! It turns out General Hospital is a regular General Hospital. And that's unfortunate, because there are a number of issues with Prop. A that no one is talking about. Take, for example, its price tag. You won't find it in the papers and you won't even see it in the proposition's 10-page summary. But on page 31 of the Department of Public Health's 47-page proposal for Prop. A, there it is. In addition to the $887.4 million in principal debt, the anticipated interest will be nearly $640 million - making the city's total debt service $1.527 billion.

Coming soon in this space we'll hear from one of the only men in the city who actually seems to want to question Prop. A on its merits. And, down the road, we'll hear from his opponents. Stay tuned - after all, as George W. Bush said, "it's your money. You paid for it."

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