Volume 41 Number 12

December 20 – December 26, 2006

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Wikipedia vs. women


› annalee@techsploitation.com

TECHSPLOITATION Two years ago tech entrepreneur Joi Ito was spending a lot of time with the managers and editors of the collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia, and he noticed that there were far more women wikipedians than women bloggers. In late 2004, Ito wrote in his blog:
Wikipedia seems much more gender balanced than the blogging community…. I wonder what causes this difference in gender distribution? Is it that the power law aspect of blogs is inherently more competitive and appeals to the way men are “trained” in society? Or is it that we’re just talking to the “head” of the blog curve and that the more interesting blogs are actually by women in “the long tail”? Or is it something about Wikipedia that attracts powerful women?
He received a handful of comments, almost entirely from men, which all boiled down to “I don’t know” or “maybe women are just more collaborative.” As far as I know, Ito never got any good answers to his questions.
But last month a group of women finally provided an unexpected rejoinder to Ito’s long-ago musings. Dozens of long-term contributors to Wikipedia formed the WikiChix, a group modeled after the female-dominated Linux Chix. WikiChix, who of course have a wiki (wikichix.org/wiki/WikiChix), say they are sick of how male-dominated Wikipedia has become.
One example of this problem, which isn’t explicitly discussed on WikiChix, is the “feminist science fiction” entry on Wikipedia. All wikis like Wikipedia are Web sites that can be modified by people browsing them. Contributors create an account, hit an edit button on any page, and then add their own information. Certain entries, however, get ensnared in “revision wars” — battles between editors who keep changing information back and forth to reflect what they consider true. “Feminist science fiction” was one such entry. Although this is a legitimate genre of science fiction and many famous SF writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin and Kim Stanley Robinson consider all or part of their work to be feminist, the entry was subject to such an intense revision war that at last administrators determined that it should be removed and replaced with “women in science fiction” in 2002. Obviously, “women in science fiction” is hardly the same thing as feminist science fiction, in the same way an entry on “operating systems” could hardly be said to replace an entry on “Linux.” It wasn’t until June of this year that the category “feminist science fiction” was created again, after a great deal of agitation.
As I said, this particular entry wasn’t cited specifically by the WikiChix as their reason for creating the group. But many issues like this one led them to form a women-only wiki to discuss Wikipedia and wiki management more generally. The question their move raises is as old as feminism itself. Is it better for women to segregate themselves or stay in the male-dominated realm of Wikipedia and fight to be given an equal voice? In the WikiChix FAQ, the group writes to men who don’t like the idea of separatism:
Instead of feeling excluded, try to see [WikiChix] as an opportunity to hear a conversation you would not hear otherwise. If men are not talking, what women say to each other becomes a different conversation. When we as women can stop defending ourselves and explaining that bias, sexism, or patriarchy exist, then we can move further in discussion and support of each other.
Is it really separatism if these women are posting in a public forum? I think not. They’ve simply created a public forum where all the speakers are women.
More than that, though, I want to know what happened between 2004 and 2006 that turned Wikipedia from gender-balanced to gender-imbalanced. Glancing at the gender distribution of contributors who list themselves on Wikipedia, it looks like the ratio is nearly equal (as of this writing, there are 77 women and 80 men). That only captures the people who bother to list their names and genders, however. Still, I want to know: Did something change? Or was it just that there were problems all along and the only change is that women are finally speaking out about them? SFBG

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who thanks Laura Quilter for fighting to keep feminist science fiction in Wikipedia.

City College’s latest abomination


OPINION Battles to preserve the unique character of San Francisco’s neighborhoods are nothing new. Indeed, most of the current crop of supervisors were elected in large part as a reaction to east-side development battles that raged during the first dot-com boom a half dozen years ago.
In the northeast corner of San Francisco, I have long been part of the struggle to preserve the character of some of the city’s oldest, most historic neighborhoods against the onslaught of incompatible development.
Decades ago, as downtown was expanding northward, gobbling up thriving, diverse communities and destroying dozens of historic buildings, community activists won a monumental zoning battle by drawing a bright line down Washington Street. On one side is the massive Downtown Business District, where the Transamerica Pyramid sits. On the other side are the human-scale neighborhoods of Chinatown, North Beach, and Jackson Square, San Francisco’s first historic district.
We have fought hard to maintain this barrier against the Manhattanization of our neighborhoods. In the late 1990s I joined with neighbors to successfully prevent the destruction of the landmark Colombo Building at the gateway from downtown into these historic neighborhoods. So when more than 200 neighbors showed up at a recent public meeting to protest the threat of yet another high-rise encroachment, I certainly took notice. Who was it this time? Not a private developer but our very own City College is now proposing a 17-story, 238-foot glass monstrosity at the corner of Kearny and Washington streets. And the college is arguing that, as a state agency, it can ignore San Francisco planning and zoning codes.
As the city’s Chinatown Area Plan states, the proposed site, which is located diagonally opposite Portsmouth Square, one of the city’s most heavily used parks, is not an appropriate setting for tall buildings. Seventy-five percent of the structures in Chinatown are three stories or less in height. The permitted height of buildings at this site is 65 feet. In addition, the proposed building would overshadow Portsmouth Square and likely condemn it to significant shading.
While I support a new campus for the Chinatown–<\d>North Beach area, City College administrators have failed to reach out to the community — and now they appear to be jamming through their latest proposal, ignoring objections from their neighbors and simultaneously committing millions of dollars of taxpayer funds to the project well before the completion of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Plans for the site were hurriedly submitted for environmental review in September without prior community input or consideration of alternatives such as a combination of smaller buildings or a location of adjunct campuses in underserved areas of the city — the Richmond, the Sunset, or Visitacion Valley. Moreover, the college’s construction bureaucracy apparently tried to stifle public comment by providing little notice and scheduling the only environmental scoping hearing immediately after Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately, just a week after that meeting the college’s Board of Trustees approved a $122 million budget for the project, which can only be interpreted as a clear sign that they have already made their decision regardless of what impacts are identified in the EIR. And perhaps, most ominously, administrators may be pushing to make the project a fait accompli before newly elected Sierra Club leader John Rizzo is inaugurated.
It’s time for City College to listen to its neighbors and go back to the drawing board.

Aaron Peskin is president of the Board of Supervisors.

The next big fight


› steve@sfbg.com
San Francisco’s eastern neighborhoods — the Mission District, Potrero Hill, Showplace Square, Dogpatch, the Central Waterfront, and SoMa — are shaping up to be a prime battleground in the fight over who will determine the city’s future.
Can city officials, working with community groups, set development standards that will create adequate housing for all income groups, protect the job-generating businesses that use light-industrial property, and include enough open space and other community benefits? Or will the community have to, for the most part, simply accept what the market forces are willing to provide?
This is the basic dichotomy at the heart of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which has been in development for years and will be unveiled by the Planning Department sometime in 2007. In anticipation of that release, members of the Board of Supervisors are attempting a preemptive strike in the form of a resolution demanding the plan prioritize affordable housing and other public needs.
The 11-page resolution — which was sponsored by Supervisors Sophie Maxwell, Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, and Tom Ammiano — restates policies from the city’s General Plan, particularly its Housing Element, and emphasizes the need for the Planning Department to ensure those policies are reflected in land-use decisions for the eastern neighborhoods.
The problem is that the city isn’t meeting its goals, particularly in the realm of affordable housing. The resolution notes that the Housing Element calls for 28 percent of new housing to be affordable to people with moderate incomes, 10 percent affordable to low-income residents, and 26 percent affordable to those with very low incomes.
Yet the city’s inclusionary housing law calls for developers to offer only 15 percent of their units below market rate, and a study associated with that law’s recent update indicates most developers won’t build if asked to contribute more (see “Homes for Whom,” 6/18/06, at www.sfbg.com). The vast majority of what’s now being built isn’t affordable to even middle-class San Franciscans — a far cry from the 64 percent of such housing called for in city policies.
“We do not have a housing crisis in San Francisco,” Maxwell declared during a Dec. 12 hearing on the resolution. “We have an affordable housing crisis.”
Most of the progressives who constitute the board majority agree with Maxwell’s statement, which has been made before by housing activist Calvin Welch and some of the community groups pushing the resolution. They all want the eastern neighborhoods, where a disproportionate number of low-income San Franciscans live, to be where the city begins to correct its housing imbalance.
“We need land specifically set aside for affordable housing, and the best place to do that is in the eastern neighborhoods,” Maxwell said at the meeting. “Let’s make this official city policy.”
Or as McGoldrick told the Guardian, “What we’re talking about here is a paradigm shift of major proportions.” He sees the eastern neighborhoods as the ideal place to create and protect working-class housing with aggressive affordability goals, and he said, “Those developers who can’t meet those goals will have to build in other parts of the city.”
But real estate speculators and developers who have spent years waiting to move forward their projects in the neighborhoods have attacked the resolution and its goals. The stakes are extremely high. The plan will set standards for the 4,800 housing units already proposed in the eastern neighborhoods, including 11 projects in the Showplace Square area that total 1,800 units, and more on the way.
“Our projects are being held hostage,” Residential Builders Association president Sean Keighran told us, saying of his members, “They were speculators, but they were playing by the rules.”
Keighran insists RBA builders will help bridge the affordable housing gap if the city works in partnership with them and uses incentives like density bonuses and height variances rather than strict limits and set-asides. But the resolution, he said, “will be interpreted as a tool to stop market-rate housing.”
That’s something even progressive Sup. Chris Daly doesn’t want. Daly emerged as the primary critic of the resolution during the Dec. 12 meeting, blasting it as unnecessary and offering a list of confusing amendments that set the stage for Sup. Bevan Dufty to successfully continue consideration of the resolution to Jan. 9, 2007.
Welch and community leaders such as Tony Kelly of the Potrero Hill Boosters were unhappy with Daly’s maneuver. Kelly told us, “It’s the community groups of the eastern neighborhoods who pushed for this.” He felt it was important for the board to give planners specific marching orders. “It’s meant to say this is what we’ll accept.”
Daly said he supports the basic goals of the resolution — and even said at the meeting that he will ultimately vote for it — but he told the Guardian he would rather find creative ways to work with developers on increasing the amount of affordable housing than draw bright lines that might block market-rate housing.
“I’m not sure it’s the right resolution at the right time,” Daly told us.
During the meeting he also questioned city planner Ken Rich on what impact this nonbonding resolution would have and concluded that it’s merely symbolic, although Rich did say it might spur planners to investigate and present more mechanisms for meeting affordable housing goals.
Daly then suggested a complete revision of the Housing Element to overcome the “balancing act” Rich said planners must perform between competing imperatives, such as facilitating jobs, open space, and housing.
“The General Plan asks us for a lot of different things,” Rich told the board.
“If that’s a weakness in the General Plan, we need to work on that,” Daly said, making the motion that the resolution also require planners to develop a list of “contradictions in the General Plan that will require them to balance conflicting mandates.”
“That could be a thesis topic in itself,” Peskin responded.
Daly’s motion was discussed among the supervisors, clouding and sidetracking the discussion, but it was preempted by Dufty’s motion to delay the matter until the next board meeting. Maxwell said she’s not giving up on the measure, which she sees as necessary to focus planners who feel constrained by market forces.
“Affordable housing seems to be last on the list, and we want it to be a priority,” Maxwell said at the meeting.
It’s an open question whether she has enough votes to win approval and what kinds of pressures and distractions the RBA and its allies will bring to the debate. But the heated division over this simple resolution is a harbinger of what’s to come next year, when the real fight over San Francisco’s future socioeconomic makeup begins.
Or as Peskin said at the hearing, “This is just a preamble to our receipt of the plans themselves.” SFBG

Eleventh-hour Christmas shopping


› deborah@sfbg.com

Last year you waited until you heard Santa’s sleigh bells ringing overhead before you started your Christmas shopping. You ended up at the corner store purchasing smokes and PBR for your friends and loved ones. You felt about as festive as warm champagne in a can.
The fact that you’re a procrastinator doesn’t mean you can’t round up some rockin’ gifts in time to scoot them under the tree. We made the rounds and found some easily accessible shops for you to hit up. Follow our lead for 11th-hour shopping, and you’ll have gifts galore without the headaches. Most of these places are open extra hours this week and are definitely open on Christmas Eve. For you real snowflakes, a few will be open even on Christmas. Careful though: some places close when the flow of shopping traffic peters out.
This recently opened, perfect postespresso stop is in the heart of North Beach. Buy a beret for your bongo-playing poet friend or a “Fuck Hate” Charles Bukowski poster for your dearest misanthrope. And where else are you going to find limited edition signed posters by the Grateful Dead and Fillmore poster artist Stanley Mouse?
540 Broadway, SF. Wed.–Sat., 11 a.m.–7 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Christmas, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. (415) 399-9626, www.kerouac.com
Make your cable car destination the Buena Vista, a bar and grill by the bay. Here you can sip the famous Irish coffees, then head into the gift shop, which sells Irish coffee–<\d>scented candles. Toss in a bottle of Buena Vista whiskey for a more intoxicating package.
2765 Hyde, SF. Wed.–Sat., 9 a.m.–8 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Christmas, closed. (415) 474-5044, www.thebuenavista.com/giftshop
The Castro’s hardware store isn’t just a place to buy nuts and bolts. At Cliff’s you can get everything from quality cookware and napkin rings to board games and mittens. But if someone in your life is really hankering for a power drill, you’ll find a good one here.
479 Castro, SF. Wed.–Sat., 9:30 a.m.–8 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; Christmas, closed. (415) 431-5365; www.cliffsvariety.com
Also known as “the gourmet pharmacy,” Elephant has fancy items you won’t find at Walgreens. For the powder room denizen, grab a spa kit filled with naturally scented candles, soap bars, and body butter in blood orange or Tahitian gardenia fragrances. Your ecoconscious associates will appreciate sustainably grown kitchen products such as the bamboo cutting boards and salad bowls. Creative teens will be wowed by the pinhole camera kit.
1607 Shattuck, Berk. Wed.–<\d>Sat., 8:30 a.m.–<\d>11 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 9 a.m.–<\d>6 p.m.; Christmas, 8:30 a.m.–<\d>6 p.m. (510) 549-9200, www.elephantpharmacy.com
Probably the coolest shop in the Mission District, Fabric8 specializes in unusual gifts made and designed by local artists. Jenn Porreca has stick-on iPod skins and small, reasonably priced paintings for sale. C. Lee Sobieski designed a washable matching dog collar and owner wrist cuff with a cute skull-and-heart motif. And DJ Romanowski’s wall of knickknacks has something for everyone.
3318 22nd St., SF. Wed.–<\d>Sat., 11 a.m.–<\d>11 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 11 a.m.–<\d>7 p.m.; Christmas, 11 a.m.–<\d>2 p.m. (415) 647-5888, www.fabric8.com
Embracing the moderne can be quite an expensive proposition at this posh Hayes Valley housewares shop, but you can most likely afford to buy your mate some good cheer in the form of the “The Good Book,” which is actually just a hollow cover for a flask.
401 Hayes, SF. Wed.–<\d>Sat., 11 a.m.–<\d>7 p.m.; Christmas Eve, noon–<\d>5 p.m.; Christmas, closed. (415) 552-1717, www.friend-sf.com
You’ll find just about anything under the exposed beams of this Bernal Heights store: picture frames, stationery, organic cotton baby jumpers, candles, and something we would all like to wipe our asses with — toilet paper printed with George W. Bush’s face and quotable remarks.
436 Cortland, SF. Wed.–<\d>Sat., 10 a.m.–<\d>10 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 10 a.m.–<\d>5 p.m.; Christmas, closed. (415) 648-1380, www.heartfeltsf.com
You’ll have an easier time getting gifts for kids at this well-stocked downtown toy store than fighting the crowds at the not-so-near big box. Stimulate the developing brains of youth by getting Lego sets and human anatomy puzzles here. The tarot jigsaw provides some alternative spiritual guidance to Christianity, and the porcelain unicorns are just plain cute.
685 Market, SF. Wed.–<\d>Sat., 9 a.m.–<\d>8 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 10 a.m.–<\d>6 p.m. (or earlier, depending on business); Christmas, 10 a.m.–<\d>6 p.m. (415) 243-8697
You’ll please collectors big and small with limited edition toys from this hipster enclave in the Haight. Little anime items such as Munny zipper pulls, a paperweight-size pile of poo known as Superduex Shikito Brown, and figurines of the band Gorillaz will all be worth a fortune some day.
1512 Haight, SF. Wed.–<\d>Fri., 11 a.m.–<\d>7 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.–<\d>8 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 11 a.m.–<\d>3 p.m.; Christmas, closed. (415) 487-9000, www.kidrobot.com
This petite and stylish shop on Piedmont Avenue has gifts for the ankle biter in your life, whether it be a friend’s dog or your sister’s teething toddler. You can also find gifts for grown-ups, such as the Hostess Twinkie Cookbook and sets of self-adhesive mustaches. The handmade bike-messenger bags made with vinylized pages of the New York and Los Angeles Times are a real find.
3820 Piedmont, Oakl. Wed.–<\d>Sat., 10:30 a.m.–<\d>8 or 9 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 10:30 a.m.–<\d>8 or 9 p.m.; Christmas, closed. (510) 428-9638
You can’t beat the hours at this emporium of gifts in Chinatown. Many of the store’s bagatelles come in beautiful silks: totes and wallets, lanterns and pillows, kimonos for him and her. It also specializes in iron tea sets and houses a large jewelry section.
826-832 Grant, SF. Open Wed.–<\d>Mon., 10 a.m.–<\d>10 p.m. (415) 982-9847, www.pekingbazaar.com
Keep the people you’re closest to smelling good. This West Portal store has one of the best soap and bath product selections in town.
44 W. Portal, SF. Wed.–<\d>Thurs., 9 a.m.–<\d>8 or 9 p.m.; Fri.–<\d>Sat., 9 a.m.- 9 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 9 a.m.–<\d>9 p.m.; Christmas, closed. (415) 759-7487 www.plainjanesgifts.com
After visiting the sea lions and taking a spin on the carousel, you can get a gift that doesn’t say “I Went to Pier 39 on Christmas Eve and All I Got You Was This Lousy Alcatraz T-shirt.” Poster Source has movie posters, scenic shots, fine art and photography prints, and sports cars pics to accommodate everyone’s decorative tastes.
Pier 39, SF. Wed.–<\d>Thurs., 10 a.m.–<\d>8 p.m.; Fri.–<\d>Sat., 10 a.m.–<\d>9 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 10 a.m.–<\d>6 p.m.; Christmas, call for hours. (415) 433-1995
The Mission District retailer has cozy sweaters, handsome leather-band watches, and purses in a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices. For that special headbanger in your life, pick up the Metallica book Nothing Else Matters: The Stories behind the Songs.
541 Valencia, SF. Wed.–<\d>Thurs., 11 a.m.–<\d>9 p.m.; Fri.–<\d>Sat., 10 a.m.–<\d>10:30 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 10 a.m.–<\d>9:30 p.m.; Christmas, closed. (415) 861-6213
One way to really take the edge off Christmas shopping is to have a drink first. Enjoy a pour at the Ferry Building’s Wine Merchant, then point yourself directly toward the “Great Wines for under $20” section. You’ll find everything from fussy California pinot noirs to fruity Belgian and German whites. Spending more than $150 entitles you to free delivery.
Ferry Bldg., stall 23, Embarcadero and Market, SF. Wed., 10 a.m.–<\d>8 p.m.; Thurs.–<\d>Fri., 10 a.m.–<\d>9 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.–<\d> 9 p.m.; Christmas Eve, 10 a.m.–<\d>7 p.m.; Christmas, closed. (415) 391-9460, www.fpwm.com<\!s>SFBG
Hayley Elisabeth Kaufman and Laura McCaul did research for this story.

Editor’s Notes


San Francisco is spending $250,000 to create an economic development plan, and that’s probably a good thing. The city’s economy is changing; development pressure is threatening small businesses and light industry; local people can’t find jobs; and more and more residents are working out of town — it’s exactly the sort of situation that calls for some intelligent planning.
The current project, sponsored by the Mayor’s Office, is the result of a ballot measure approved two years ago that requires the city to measure the economic impact of policy decisions. For the most part, the legislation, by Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier, is aimed at stopping progressive initiatives, but if it gets San Francisco headed in the right economic direction, that will be well worth a quarter million dollars.
See, I’ve talked to the economist who is heading up the study and to the person in the Mayor’s Office who is coordinating it, and I’m afraid that they’re coming very close to missing the point.
The final study won’t be completed until the end of January, but the Board of Supervisors got a sneak preview a couple weeks ago, complete with a PowerPoint presentation and lots of the kind of talk that seems coherent only to academic economists. (Under “Conclusions,” the summary recommends that we “invest in and diversify the engines of innovation in the knowledge sector.” Whatever that means.)
The actual research in the preliminary documents seems fairly solid, and the evidence, while not surprising, is still alarming: San Francisco has lost thousands of families, jobs that don’t require a college degree are vanishing, and the income gap between the increasingly wealthy high end of the population and the increasingly squeezed middle and working classes is growing.
But missing from the study so far are what I consider the two most important factors in economic development in this city: housing and land use.
I work for a small business, and I have to hire people, and I can tell you that every small businessperson in this town (except the ones who have vast stores of venture capital to spend) is facing the same problem I am: it costs too much to live here. And if their businesses are operating in the eastern neighborhoods, they’re also facing the very real prospect that they may lose their leases and their places of business to make room for more million-dollar condos that their employees can’t afford, which will fill up with more people who work in Silicon Valley.
Last week I spoke with Ted Egan, the Berkeley economist who is heading up the project for ICF Consulting. He understands that locally owned businesses are the key to the local economy and that replacing imports and expanding exports is a crucial goal. But he also said that “housing outcome isn’t on our plate.”
That, I guess, is because the city defined the study that way. Jennifer Matz, who is deputy director at the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, told me that her office would be coordinating with city planners but that housing and land use were beyond the scope of this report.
If that’s the case, it won’t be a terribly useful document. SFBG

Gavin Newsom’s datebook


EDITORIAL Kirsten Gillibrand, a newly elected member of Congress from Hudson, NY, has made a simple promise that could have dramatic impacts — and that should serve as a model for public officials like Mayor Gavin Newsom. Gillibrand, according to the New York Times, has promised to post her work calendar — all of it, including the names of lobbyists she’s met with — on the Web at the end of every day. It’s hardly an onerous task — any competent staffer can do the work in a matter of minutes. And it will, she says, give her constituents a clear idea of what she’s doing to earn her public salary.
There’s a broader benefit, of course: by releasing a full account of how she spends her time, Gillibrand will go a long ways toward eliminating what the Times calls “the secrecy that cloaks the dealings of lawmakers and deep-pocket special interests.” A broad-based move like this will help restore voters’ faith in government — a huge deal for the Democratic Party and for the future of American politics. Incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi ought to join Gillibrand and direct the rest of the House Democrats to do the same.
And we hope Mayor Newsom is paying attention.
Newsom is not a terribly accessible mayor. His public appearances are typically crafted to give him the spotlight without any potential for embarrassment. He’s refusing to comply with the will of the voters and appear before the Board of Supervisors to answer questions. And despite the provisions of the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance, he continues to resist publicizing his full schedule.
Wayne Lanier, a retired scientist who lives in the Haight Asbury, has been trying for some time to get the mayor’s calendar and on Dec. 11 filed a complaint with the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force. What Lanier wants ought to be pretty straightforward information: there’s no reason the mayor can’t provide a list of whom he met with last week and whom he’s scheduled to meet with next week. But even when the mayor has provided that sort of information in the past, it’s been limited and spotty: all kinds of supposedly private meetings don’t make the list. It’s a good bet he’s involved in all manner of talks with lobbyists and deep-pocket interests who are never publicly identified.
Newsom is up for reelection next year and so far has no visible challengers. So it’s even more important that he not duck public requests for information. He should do exactly what Gillibrand promises to do: tell the public, promptly and without undue redaction, just how he’s spending his time.SFBG

Pass Maxwell’s housing bill


EDITORIAL Every city in California has to keep a general plan on its civic shelf, and every 10 years the plan — a detailed outline of future growth and development goals — has to be dusted off and updated. Most of the time, nobody pays much attention: when decisions on individual projects are made, conformance with the general plan means a lot less than the political connections of the developers.
But hidden in those documents are often some fascinating and potentially important bits of information — and that’s the case with the Housing Element of San Francisco’s plan.
According to that report, San Francisco has a critical need for more housing, which everyone knows and accepts. But the details matter, and in this case, the document says that all housing isn’t alike — and that, in fact, the city needs comparatively little of the sort of market-rate (read: million-dollar) condos that developers want to build. What the city’s official planning guideline actually says is that given San Francisco’s population, economy, and job mix, 64 percent of all new housing built in the city should be sold at below-market rates.
That’s right: the carefully researched conclusion of the professional city planners is that almost two-thirds of all new housing has to be affordable to working San Franciscans — which means only one-third of new housing should be luxury condos for high-end buyers.
That’s a pretty radical concept — but when you actually read the Housing Element, it makes perfect sense. Only a small fraction of the city’s current residents can afford the mortgage payments or rents required for most new market-rate units. And most of the jobs that will be created in this city in the next 10 years won’t pay enough to allow workers to afford those new condos. Instead, what San Francisco is becoming is a bedroom community for people who live elsewhere — and that’s not part of anyone’s planning goals.
So Sup. Sophie Maxwell has introduced a resolution that would make it official city policy that all new housing built in the eastern neighborhoods — ground zero for new development in the next decade — meet the goals of the San Francisco General Plan. That would mean that city planners could only approve new housing if 64 percent of the units were sold for prices that working San Franciscans can afford.
Her legislation isn’t perfect — for one thing, it’s just a policy resolution, which means that Mayor Gavin Newsom and the City Planning Commission can ignore it. But it’s a powerful statement about the extent of the city’s housing crisis, the utter failure of the mayor’s housing policy, and the complete inadequacy of virtually every new private housing development proposal now on the table.
As Steven T. Jones reports in this issue, the resolution has set off something of a furor, even on the left — and the fact that Maxwell was forced to continue it for a month is a signal that the Residential Builders Association (RBA) — which wants to turn the eastern neighborhoods into a jungle of luxury condos without strong affordable housing requirements — still has disturbing political influence.
Sup. Chris Daly, who expressed a lot of concerns about Maxwell’s resolution (and helped force the delay), argues that the measure actually calls for a total moratorium on new housing in the eastern neighborhoods, since it’s unlikely any private developer will build projects with 64 percent of the units at below-market prices.
That may be true. It’s also fine with us. San Francisco doesn’t need to build more housing that’s totally out of sync with what residents and small businesses need. And a moratorium would force Newsom, city planners, and developers to talk seriously about how to meet the affordable housing needs.
We are not convinced that building units that sell for, say, $300,000 is an impossible venture for the private sector, and we’re totally convinced that with a little vision, the city can expand dramatically its affordable housing stock. For starters, the city needs to protect its existing rental housing by making Ellis Act evictions prohibitively expensive and tightly controlling evictions and condo conversions (something Daly has called for).
Daly also says that what the city really needs is a better Planning Department and a more visionary commission and director. We agree. But the question on the table is simple: should the city, as a matter of policy, abide by the housing goals in its own General Plan? That’s a no-brainer.<\!s>SFBG

Margaret Cho’s Good Vibes XXX-Mas striptease