New: BARFer, Pro-Development Activist, Charged with Vote Fraud

Sara Gaiser (BCN) and Planet
Wednesday April 06, 2016 - 10:59:00 PM

A San Francisco real estate agent and pro-housing development activist with San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBARF) allegedly registered to vote using a false address in order to vote in a district where he did not reside, the San Francisco District Attorney's Office said today.

Donald Dewsnup, 49, was arrested Tuesday by San Francisco District Attorney's Office investigators and arraigned today on three felony counts of filing a false document with a government agency, two felony counts of perjury and two felony counts of false voter registration. He was released on his own recognizance and ordered to return to court on April 19. 

Prosecutors allege Dewsnup not only voted in a district in which he did not live, but also provided a false address to the California Bureau of Real Estate and used false addresses to claim membership in the Telegraph Hill Dwellers.  

The district where he claimed residence, District 3, had a hotly contested election in the fall between incumbent Julie Christensen and then-former Supervisor Aaron Peskin. Peskin's defeat of Christensen in November was seen as a significant loss for Mayor Ed Lee, who had backed Christensen, and a crucial shift in the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors. 

"San Francisco's supervisorial races can be decided by a small number of voters," District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. "A healthy democracy benefits from zealous debate, but can be undermined by fraud and deceit." 

Golinger said it was "sad" that Dewsnup's actions might harm the integrity of the electoral process.  

Dewsnup is an active member of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (BARF) a group that promotes density and housing development. The group has been openly critical of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers and Peskin, among others, for what it views as anti-growth, "NIMBY" political views. 

SFBARF members, including San Francisco residents, have also been recruited on a list-serv to attend Berkeley City Council meetings and comment favorably about development proposals. They showed up in force at Tuesday's City Council meeting to support the Bates Plan for easing zoning to promote building in Berkeley, but were thwarted when citizen opposition prompted Bates and his allies to withdraw most of the scheme.  

Allegations of voter fraud against Dewsnup first surfaced last fall when he was involved in an unsuccessful effort to overthrow the leadership of the local Sierra Club chapter. SFBARF leadership targeted the club after it helped defeat several waterfront development projects and pass a measure requiring voter approval for waterfront projects exceeding existing height limits. 

Jon Golinger, a former president of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers and a prominent figure in both recent campaigns against waterfront development and the Sierra Club fight, said that he was not aware of Dewsnup ever actively participating in the neighborhood group. He noted that there was no need for Dewsnup to falsify an address to join the Telegraph Hill Dwellers because anyone can join online. 

"I think it's the waterfront issues that drew this person into the group," Golinger said. 

SFBARF founder Sonja Trauss today said Dewsnup does not have a regular address because he is homeless. 

Trauss called Dewsnup's arrest "without question politically motivated." She said that she believed he was targeted because he antagonized "anti-growth incumbents" by campaigning against Peskin and running for a spot on the Sierra Club's executive committee.  

"I knew that a policy change as radical as the one we're calling for would not be won easily, however I am shocked the DA would harass a housing advocate, who happens to be homeless, for trying to vote," Trauss said in a statement. "It's nakedly vengeful and political." 

A spokeswoman for Peskin said it would be inappropriate for the supervisor to comment on a criminal investigation.