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A Candidate's Complaint

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Steve Williams responds:

Your calculated and deliberately false attack on me and my candidacy for city attorney 13 days before the elections must be immediately addressed and retracted in your next issue ["Left in the Lurch," Matt Smith, Oct. 24]. Not only is the entire article intentionally designed to place me in a false light by omission of facts and its half-truths, it also contains numerous false statements asserted as truth, not opinion.

The truly humorous aspect of your "trash" journalism is that a writer on your staff, Peter Byrne, wrote an article about the case in 1998 when it was "news" and praised me to high heavens for my community-minded work against a corrupt system. The Chronicle came to the same conclusion in an article in December 1997, as did KRON-TV, the previous Board of Supervisors, the Potrero Boosters, San Francisco Tomorrow, S.F. Heritage, and thousands of San Franciscans. Mr. Smith had all this information and deliberately ignored the facts to create a "political hit-piece."

Notwithstanding the fact that the entire article is a "hit-piece," creating a false impression of me and my candidacy, there are specific libelous statements that must be retracted by a method equal to which you published those false statements.

"His rise has been due entirely to his joining rich people's battles to preserve their neighborhoods."

This is a deliberate lie, calculated to spread misinformation and attack my character. I have every environmental endorsement, tenant endorsement, and progressive endorsement in this race for a reason. I have been serving the neighborhoods and people of San Francisco -- the poor, middle class, tenants, and some well-heeled folks, as well -- for many years. You completely neglected to note my pro bono activities for nonprofit, environmental, and good government entities. The way in which the statement is set forth as fact is false and deliberately so, and must be retracted by a large banner headline the same way it was printed.

This is also true for the statements attributed to John Sanger, a development lawyer whom I have opposed on many occasions. His statement that "all" of my representations are of one kind or the other is false, and deliberately false requiring a retraction. Your paper is not privileged to reprint slander without taking responsibility for it.

I did not represent Tom Ginella; he had his own counsel. I represented, on a pro bono basis, the only neighborhood group near the project in an attempt to reduce the height and bulk of the project and to obtain some affordable housing. (It has none in 370 units.) It turned out that we were correct in our legal assertions, and the previous Board of Supervisors simply changed the law, after the fact, to accommodate the developer -- Emerald Fund -- which had contributed heavily to them and the mayor, to allow them to place 65-foot buildings in a 40-foot zone.

You omit the fact that the 1997 case which I brought was done so on a pro bono basis, that the Residential Builders Association hired two sets of lawyers to oppose me, and most importantly, that the house was not a "dilapidated cottage" but was, in fact, an affordable house protected by the city's laws, in a row of protected houses, and was recently sold for $810,000. You ignored the fact that I was entirely correct on the law of the matter and that is why I prevailed.

The article states that I am supported by "five left-wing supervisors." This is knowingly false and requires retraction also. I suspect you might hear from Leland Yee, Aaron Peskin, and Jake McGoldrick on this issue.

Your reference to a "Sunset District hairdresser" is also false. That case was also the Residential Builders Association, they put the property in one member's sister's name, it was in the Richmond, and involved an illegal demolition without a permit and the Building Department made that finding, only to be reversed by the Board of Appeals. The cases you say were all "lost" were "lost" at the Board of Appeals, which is so political and biased that the City Attorney's Office actually sued that board this summer to try to force it to comply with the law.

Your reporter never bothered to meet with me on the "story" or even tell me what it concerned. He did not give me a chance to respond to the quotes or to the misinformation throughout the article. You met with me earlier in the week and promised your paper would be "fair" and "even-handed." You didn't even ask me about the case on which the article focuses. I told you in our meeting that I recognize your paper had become a mouthpiece for developers, particularly the RBA and the real estate speculators since it was purchased by a large out-of-state chain based in Arizona, and you gave me assurances that you would act above board. Again, obviously false.

Presenting me as a candidate of the "rich" is a joke and also incredibly false and deceptive given the other candidates in the race, all of whom are taking money from lobbyists, developers, special interests, big landlord organizations, and those doing business with the city. This also constitutes "false light," which also requires retraction. I faxed contributor lists to your "reporter" but as usual he ignores the facts.

Matt Smith is clearly biased against everything related to preservation and neighborhood character and compatibility of development. He ignores the fact that the only affordable housing is the existing housing stock. It is also the only housing under rent control. This housing is protected by law. He doesn't understand the law and plays fast and loose with the facts. The illegal acts done in the name of "housing" are done by those who profit by destroying the economic and cultural diversity of San Francisco while claiming to be helping. They are actually fueling our housing crisis.

Mr. Smith's opinions are his own and must be noted as such for publication. There are legal requirements for such "journalism" and your paper clearly exceeded the permissible limits.

Your reporter's assertion that only he knows a true "progressive" borders on delusional. Somehow in five months of campaigning I have managed to pull the wool over elected officials, every single progressive and environmental group in San Francisco. But not Mr. Smith. He doesn't care about the contributions, the endorsements, or the facts of my past record. ... He alone knows what is going on in this race.

The only way to effectively undo the affirmative, deliberate, and malicious harm which your paper intended is to print a retraction in the coming edition. I look forward to your immediate response.

Steve Williams
San Francisco

Read related story, "Left in the Lurch" By Matt Smith

Editor's note: The Matt Smith column in question incorrectly identified the location of a land-use dispute; it involved property in the Richmond, rather than the Sunset District. The same column incorrectly stated that Steve Williams acted as an attorney representing Tom Ginella and his neighbors; the piece should have said that Williams represented a local neighborhood group. SF Weekly regrets the errors.

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