Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Housing Hunt: OH YEAH!

"Is it... too expensive?" he asked. The man fidgeted with the paperclip between his fingers, pulling it apart and bending it hastily and absentmindedly into abstract figures like a balloon animal. "It's too much, isn't it? Right?" His snappy suit and well groomed hair contrasted sharply with his anxious ticks, but even more so with the apartment. Paint seemed to be somehow melting off the wall in the awkward kitchen, the large wooden floor of the living room warped just enough to make the guests occasionally stumble unexpectedly, a finish of dust had permanently settled into the shelves and the bath, and a single light struggled to cast its rays into the corners of a dim bedroom. I looked out of the one 6x20" windows onto a small cement patio with a sad, crumpled barbecue leaning against the wall.

He stared at me. "Well, I mean ... I wouldn't say..." I stumbled for the words to say yes, without actually saying so. Come on, I urged myself, four years of political studies. This should be EASY. "It's not what we were expecting from the photos, but it definitely has some ... HOMEY character to it. We might be able to work with that."

"Have I shown you the cellar?"

"We were hoping for ... excuse me?"

"The cellar. This floor comes with a basement. Or something."

"A basement or something? Aren't we on the second floor?" This was true, to a point. The apartment was on a steep hill in the Inner Sunset, and this level could conceivably have a 'cellar' of sorts. He walked to a door in the wall of the bedroom, with one of the other prospie renters and I trailing close behind, excited for the promise of more floor space. The man in the suit put his paper clip in his pocket and opened the door.

It was a personal Bat-Cave. The dark 'room' spread into the shadows along a cement walkway. We bowed our heads beneath exposed wooden supports, and turned right into something once related to a large hardwood storage closet that was now filled with dozens of carpets and wires and pipes, and in the back of the room a very small red door stood two feet off the floor. I climbed through the dark mess, gripped the brass handle and twisted. And twisted. And twisted more. The handle spun several times, I pulled back, and it simply came loose so it was dangling in place.

"Oh that door is locked," the manager explained shortly.

"How is it locked?" I laughed. "The handle isn't secured"

"It's locked form the other side."

"Oh does it go to the other units then?" the other guy reasoned.


"Then... where-"

"So this hallway here stretches back to the granite in the hillside." He directed our attention to the black corridor. "I should really put some lights in here now. Anyway, your welcome to check it out." Curious, I stepped carefully down the walkway, then fumbled down the walkway, then followed the wall down the walkway, and all the while the ceiling got lower and lower until I was squatting on exposed rock - or at least what felt like exposed rock.

I walked back to the doorway and stepped into the dim light of the little bulb, and caught Chelsea's eyes. "So, how do you like it?" I asked.


"Yeah. Did you see the cellar?

"It has a cellar?!"

The search for affordable housing in San Francisco is a "trope". It's one of those thing that any Bay Area local will recognize when you drop it into a conversation. Think of it as looking for a particular antique in a market of pawn shops, except you don't quite know how to describe what you're looking for and the sellers are convinced that they have it, and so you have no power in negotiating.

To be fair, this apartment had a nice view, and was actually decent size. It was also almost $1400/month. The first apartment we viewed was a bit smaller. It's actually easy to imagine - think of your usual bathroom in a Starbucks or a Burger King. Now take three of those, put a big window in one, and that's the floorplan for a "Well lit 1BR with Kitchen". We viewed another 1BR in Sunset that was nice. It had new wood floors, soft lighting, and a $4250 deposit required. It's really hit and miss with the landlords too - we met one who managed an incredible apartment with views of GG Park, but he was a carbon copy of Sheldon Cooper, prohibited the lease paperwork from leaving the premises, and required the deposit to be presented in full on the spot to secure the place. Another one showed us around a comfortable apartment in a crappy building three blocks form the projects - with a window overlooking the district police station - but he was by far the friendliest landlord I've met.

After five days of viewings in a week, we finally agreed on a a second-floor Edwardian apartment in the Richmond District. Most days around here see fog or sun with an ocean breeze in the summer, but Fall (crossing fingers!) should be warmer. We move in Sunday morning, and I start work on Monday. So that'll be fun.

(The living room --> bedroom)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

FB invite to follow the new Blog

As some of you know, I will be starting a fellowship with San Francisco city government next month. As fewer of you know, I started a blog [this one] three months ago with the limited ambition of getting some non-facebook users in on a debate about healthcare. Apparently they got a bit frisky, because now (three months later) they are giving birth to a glorious profit child. That is, I’m transforming my “blog” into something like a log of my experiences, on the web (see what I did there?), to use as a median for discussion and keeping in touch with mah peeps.

If you’re interested, Politic and the Rumpus is a way for me to share my stories and insights into local government, policy debate, culture and city misbehaving as I work my way through the fellowship program – though I should disclose that I still plan to try and force discussion on social, political and legal debates.

Personally, I think you should all check it out unless you have particular moral or linguistic reservations about “blogging”. I'm not sure how active it'll be for a few weeks, but you’re welcome to ask questions, answer questions, throw out ideas, or just be a jerk and make other people argue with each other. You can link to the blog at http://politicandtherumpus.blogspot.com/ or you can just read it and respond as a guest user. Tell your friends, tell your mom, tell your cat (if you have one and we've met), but maybe don’t tell critical law officers – I can’t promise everything will be above board…


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Federal Judge, 'DOMA unconstitutional' after 14 years

In two companion rulings last week, US District Judge Joseph Tauro found that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") violates the Fifth and Tenth Amendments of the US Constitution.

This is surprising for two reasons: first, this ruling could strike a hefty blow to the 14-year old DOMA, though it is sure to be appealed by the DOJ; and secondly, NO ONE HEARD ABOUT IT! The story was able to make its way onto a handful of news cycles by Thursday morning (a week later...), but the issue has largely been ignored by major broadcasting media.

Gill v. Office of Personnel Management

Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you a bit of context. The Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton (a little disappointing) after the bill was fast-tracked through Congress with overwhelming support in both the Senate (85-14) and the House (342-67). [...Side note: Clinton was then, and for years remained and opponent of same-sex marriage until very recently. Though he pushed for the the adoption of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as a compromise with the Joint Chiefs and Congress to allow homosexual men and women to serve in the military (in theory), the White House likely saw the bill as an opportunity to court more conservative voters in the '96 election.]

Many policy makers at the time were freakin out and claiming that the recent recognition of same-sex marriages in Hawaii would lead to a (*cough) 'domino effect' among other states, as they would be required to also recognize those Hawaiian marriages under the Full Faith and Credit clause of Article IV of the US Constitution - which basically says each state has to respect the legal benefits or certificates issued in any other state of the US. This is a fair concern, because that is the law, and it says so in the Constitution. What happened next was a bit crafty. Key law makers realized that barring same-sex marriage across the US and in every state, with a federal law, could be seen as a little too overreaching, and it would certainly be struck down in the courts on grounds of infringing on state sovereignty. So instead of targeting the issue broadly and saying that states would not have to recognize certain legal marriages of other states (sticky ground again), the federal government decided to specify what the legal definition of "marriage" and "spouse" meant, on a federal level.
"In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."
It's kind of like cheating, but it worked. Other states would not have to recognize those marriages that failed to meet the federal definition. The bill passed, but since 2005 the Act has faced a host of legal challenges. The Supreme Court has so far refused to accept any cases regarding the DOMA, but given Judge Tauro's scathing rebuttal of the legislation, it may soon be forced to. The decision cited contradictions to the the Tenth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of Amendment V. In the case of Gill the plaintiffs did not challenge the right of same-sex couples to marry, but rather the federal government's different treatment of couples legally married in Mass. and opposite-sex couples, citing health, retirement and tax benefits.
"DOMA fails to pass constitutional muster even under the highly deferential rational basis test. As set forth in detail below, this court is convinced that “there exists no fairly conceivable set of facts that could ground a rational relationship” between DOMA and a legitimate government objective. DOMA, therefore, violates core constitutional principles of equal protection ... As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this court must hold that Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution."
In the Massachusetts case - in which plaintiffs presented specific costs and challenges faced by the state since the passage of DOMA - Judge Tauro cited the Spending Clause of the Tenth Amendment in his criticism of DOMA.

That DOMA plainly intrudes on a core area of state sovereignty—the ability to define the marital status of its citizens—also convinces this court that the statute violates the Tenth Amendment.

The Justice Department this week pledged to make an appeal within the 14-day 'waiting period' after the ruling, but this could also drop the Obama White House into a tricky position. In February of 2008, Obama's campaign issued a clear statement on LGBT rights. "Unlike Senator Clinton, I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – a position I have held since before arriving in the U.S. Senate," the statement reads. "While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether. Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does." In 2009, and again this week, the DOJ has seemingly contradicted this position by pursuing appeals to DOMA challenges, and this has justifiably concerned many gay-rights advocates who supported the original campaign. The White House will have to make its position clear in the coming months, but for now you can follow the story online at LA Times or PoliGlot blog.