A controversial GoFundMe campaign launched by furious and apparently very wealthy residents of the eastern edge of the city has raised more than $44,000 in 11 days. The recipient: a lawyer, Andrew Zacks, who is representing the residents in their fight against a homeless shelter that’s been proposed for a parking lot on Embarcadero between Beale and Bryant streets. Zacks is a partner in Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, a firm that prides itself on being “the voice of Bay Area property owners.”
“South Beach, Rincon Hill, Bayside Village, East Cut & Mission Bay residents, businesses and other interested parties are organizing to oppose the Navigation Center proposed for Seawall Lot 330,” the GoFundMe page reads. “Safe Embarcadero for All invites you to join us. This effort will require your help by showing up to hearings and community gatherings and making a financial contribution to a legal fund.”
Twitter tore the GoFundMe campaign to pieces on Wednesday, googling the recipients who posted their names along with their donations, and berating the overt display of prejudiced NIMBYism. Despite the outrage, donations continued to pour in, with more than $6,000 being gifted to the campaign between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. Many donations are $1,000 and up, and one person — who remains anonymous — donated $10,000 toward the effort.
But San Francisco is very good at counter-campaigns, and Thursday morning saw the launch of another. San Francisco resident William Fitzgerald created an almost-identically-framed GoFundMe, but cleverly flipped the language and the donation recipient. Instead of raising funds for a lawyer, he proposes people donate to the Coalition on Homelessness. GoFundMe itself has donated $5,000 toward the campaign, stating that its team “loves this cause.”
Update, March 29: Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce and avid supporter of Proposition C, donated $10,000 to Fitzgerald’s campaign on Friday afternoon.
“I saw the [GoFundMe] yesterday and I was so surprised how brazen these people were. Usually, these things happen behind closed doors, but they’re doing it so publicly, with their names on it,” Fitzgerald tells SF Weekly. “Everyone complains about homelessness, and when they have an option to give shelter to someone on the streets they do this. You look at where the current Navigation Centers are, and none of them are on the west side. I think it’s because of groups of this.
“I would argue that your property values would be higher if people were nicer to one another,” he adds.
Fitzgerald chose the Coalition on Homelessness as the recipient of his campaign because of their ongoing work to advocate for unhoused people living in San Francisco — but he acknowledges that they can’t fight this battle alone. “Hopefully, the supervisors will step up, and not support this class warfare,” he says.
The Navigation Center was put forth by Mayor London Breed, and would contain 175 to 250 beds — a valuable step forward in her goal of creating 1,000 new shelter beds by 2020. But response to this specific proposal has been mixed; some view it as a travesty that would affect their property values, others are concerned that the large size of the shelter goes against the original Navigation Center philosophy of customized care, and still more believe we should open it as quickly as possible to alleviate the human rights crises occurring on our streets.
On Wednesday, Breed tweeted that she didn’t support “unnecessary delays” over her proposal.
The battle to open Navigation Centers is already messy; some supervisors claim the Department of Homelessness is blocking their attempts to open them in their neighborhoods. But this latest development is worrying; while many agree that this ugly, prejudiced attempt to push poverty out of one’s neighborhood using money is grotesque, it’s also likely to be effective. If the law firm hired by these neighbors finds a way to push a suit forward, will the city dive into a battle? Or, will it simply abandon the site, and look for another? And, if it finds a new location in another area, what’s to stop more neighbors from throwing money at the problem until it goes away?
As the wealth gap in San Francisco continues to widen, the opportunity for people to use expensive legal tactics to fight policies they disagree with increases — and regardless of how you feel about Navigation Centers, that is a situation we should all be worried about.