Robin Abcarian Commentary, news and analysis
In San Francisco, a battle over the 'hotelization' of neighborhoods

It's hard to find people here who are neutral about Airbnb, the explosively successful tech firm that has disrupted more than just the hotel business.

Judith Davis, 71, loves the short-term rental platform. A quintessential San Franciscan, Davis was married to the man who discovered Janis Joplin. She owns a memorabilia-filled Queen Anne Victorian in Noe Valley. She says she cannot make ends meet, let alone keep up with home repairs, on her $965 monthly Social Security check.

For five years, she has rented out the lower level of her home on Airbnb for $125 a night, earning a whole lot more than when she had a full-time tenant. If the city enacts a proposed limit on the number of nights she can rent out her house, she said, "I will lose half my income. And it wasn't that much to begin with."

Two miles away, in West Portal, Libby Noronha, a 66-year-old federal government retiree, told me she is not a fan of Airbnb. Noronha bought her traditional two-story detached stucco home in 2012, on...

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Death for the Boston Marathon bomber: What would Jesus do?

Two headlines captured the ambivalence felt by many after a federal jury sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

The Los Angeles Times: “Death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev brings relief to many in Boston."

The New York Times: “Death sentence for Boston Bomber ... unsettles city he tore apart."

By large margins, residents of Boston--and the rest of Massachusetts--opposed the death penalty for Tsarnaev. Yet a significant majority of Americans favored imposing it.

The disconnect is startling, but understandable. Massachusetts is a deep blue state with an admirable history of progressive politics, including (as you may remember from the 2012 presidential campaign) universal health coverage for all its residents.

Massachusetts courts abolished the death penalty in 1984, and legislators have resisted the efforts of conservative politicians, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, to reinstate it. 

Nationally, support for the death penalty...

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For Isla Vista victim's father, advocating stricter gun laws 'not a choice'

You may not know the name Richard Martinez, but you certainly remember his howl of pain after his only child, Christopher Michaels-Martinez, was slain during a horrific night of violence in Isla Vista nearly a year ago.

Martinez, with his distinctive gray beard and dark hair, spoke in public the day after a mentally ill young man killed six people and injured 14 others before killing himself. His rage and grief were hard to watch, but impossible to ignore.

"Why did Chris die?" Martinez demanded, his voice husky with emotion. "Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris' right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, 'Stop this madness'? Too many have died. We should say to ourselves, 'Not one more.'"

Sadly, predictably, there have been many, many more. In the last 12 months, it's estimated that guns have killed more than 30,000 Americans.

On Tuesday, I met Martinez here to talk about how Christopher's...

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Surf culture's inspiration transcends the wave

The waves were massive in Newport Beach this week, pushed to shore by a swell that originated on the other side of the world, somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere.

Over a four-day period here, lifeguards rescued 24 people, six of them hapless souls caught in the giant surf at the Wedge, an infamous break at the tip of the Balboa Peninsula known not just for the heft and odd triangular shape of its waves, but for the ferocious way they slam against the sand.

"You can really kill yourself," said Jill Bonner, 63, who stood on the shore behind yellow caution tape that held back dozens of spectators. "I get nervous watching."

Her photographer husband, Gary Steinberg, 65, trained a long lens on bodysurfers crashing around in the churning water. "Every year," he said, "someone breaks their neck here."

On Tuesday, the last day of big surf, a yellow flag with a solid black circle fluttered from the Wedge's lifeguard tower. When the flag is up, no flotation devices like surfboards or boogie boards...

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Going undercover at crisis pregnancy centers

You've seen the billboards up and down the state: "Pregnant and scared?"

Well, Dania Flores wasn't pregnant but she was a little bit scared the first time she visited a crisis pregnancy center. A recent high school graduate, she was working undercover, posing as a pregnant teen to gather intel on these operations, which have but one goal: to prevent abortion.

Last year, Flores visited 43 crisis pregnancy centers around California, many in impoverished parts of the Central Valley. She was recruited by NARAL Pro-Choice California to help bolster political support for a law that would force crisis pregnancy centers to inform women that they might be entitled to state-funded support for all reproductive health services, including prenatal care and abortion.

In an interview Monday at NARAL's office here, Flores told me she did not record her visits, which would have violated California law, but recorded herself immediately after most visits, sometimes in the car, while the details were still...

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Fight against vaccination bill finds ally in ACLU

The anti-vaccine moms began lining up in the hall outside the state Senate hearing room at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, two hours before the doors opened. Some had babies strapped to their chests, others sat on the floor with small children.

They had arrived from Oakland, from Santa Cruz and from Sonoma. They were protest veterans now, having trekked to the Capitol two, three, four other times to raise their voices against a law that would bar most unvaccinated children from classrooms. Most wore red.

"I'm so emotional about the possibility that this is over and I can finally rest," one said.

"My daughter asked, 'Mommy, are you going to fight the Evil Empire again today?' " said another.

"I was going to post on Facebook, 'Whose sex life is gone?' " joked a third.

The moms laughed, knowingly.

"If they kill the bill, we have closure," said Oakland chiropractor Eileen Karpfinger, a mother of four. "If not we keep going."

There was no closure for the anti-vaccine moms, who cling to the belief, despite...

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