"A" for effort: Kudos for even trying to tackle the huge issue of special education in SFUSD ["Separate and Unequal," Jan. 25]. As Jim Dierke said, it really is the elephant in the room in schools. But don't expect to hear that from administrators.
I work as a vice president of United Educators, who represent nearly all of the district's special education staff. But I work as a special ed paraprofessional. Yes, [Alison] Pierce's article didn't mention the nearly 2,000 paras in SFUSD (there are 4,000 teachers), but we exist. That's my first beef. Second, because Pierce included nearly no commentary from nonmanagerial school staff (i.e., those who actually are in the classroom with kids), she missed how little SFUSD trains any of its staff. Paras actually receive zero training from SFUSD, and UESF has stressed repeatedly how important it is for all staff. The federal IDEA mandates training for everyone who comes into contact with special ed students, but SFUSD doesn't seem to know that. Or care.
Third, SFUSD loses millions each year in lawsuits filed by parents because they don't always follow student IEPs. Want to know why SFUSD consistently cries poor? In part because they'd rather roll the dice that a parent doesn't know his or her rights than provide the best education up front. SFUSD defunds itself by not making SPED students and staff a priority.
Next time, try to talk to more teachers and maybe a para or two. You may get more than the party line you've at least partly swallowed.
Who needs journalistic integrity, anyway?: It is my understanding that Harmon Leon will no longer be writing for your publication. Based on the questions surrounding one of his recent columns, I guess I can understand that decision. For what it's worth, I've always enjoyed Mr. Leon's writing style and looked forward to seeing his columns in your publication. While I can't speak for the fact-checking of his work, I do hope you'll reconsider your decision. Harmon Leon is a great writer; his column about having dinner with a white supremacist family at Applebee's remains one of the funniest/most disturbing things I've ever read. I'd like to believe that the controversy over his [porn] column is more about oversight or even laziness than intentional deceiving of the reader.
Please bring Harmon's column back; I think he deserves another shot. In the post-Hunter S. Thompson world, we need more writers like him.
A landlord without a vacation home? Oh, the injustice!: At last, an article on rent control by someone who understands the unintended but real consequences ["Unintended Evictions," Matt Smith, Jan. 18]. I personally know of several well-off renters who live in under-market-rent apartments and own vacation or investment property outside of S.F. The irony is that as the owner of three small rental buildings, I myself can't afford to own a vacation home.
Another insidious consequence of rent control is that of renters who put off buying a place of their own in past years when it was much more affordable and instead remained in their rent-protected apartments. Had they bought years ago, their net worth now would be hundreds of thousands of dollars greater. And although they cling to their rent-controlled units, many are kicking themselves for not having made the leap into homeownership when prices were lower.
Ultimately, I think the real agenda of rent activists is not so much to protect renters as it is to protect votes. Why else would they object to exempting buildings from the condo lottery in which the current renters want to buy the buildings they live in as condos. They know that if the ratio of owners to renters changes to a majority of owners, as it is in the rest of the country, they will be less able to pass more restrictive rent and property laws. It's a cynical political strategy that hasn't had nearly enough exposure.
Density, shmensity: Like Matt Smith, I too would welcome greater housing density in San Francisco. But unlike him I don't believe it will necessarily lower rents. More likely it will raise them. If increased density indeed leads to lower rents, then San Francisco should have lower rents than Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, and Portland and higher rents than Manhattan, when in fact the reverse is true. Throughout the world, the highest rents tend to be found in the densest cities -- think Hong Kong and Tokyo -- and for a simple reason: Greater population density typically equates to more restaurants, more shops, more entertainment venues, more jobs, more of just about everything. Which in turn makes a city attractive to a larger number of people, who compete to live there and drive rents up. As has already happened in San Francisco. So while I can think of many arguments for increasing the city's housing density, making housing more affordable is definitely not one of them.
Last week's cover story, "Separate and Unequal," should have credited photographer Paul Trapani for the images. SF Weekly regrets the error.