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Editors Notes

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Gavin Newsom will never live down his drunken affair with a close friend’s wife. It’s not a factor in this year’s mayoral race (which shows that San Francisco still has some class), but it’ll come back to haunt him someday, when he runs for governor or senator or wherever he goes next. Bill Clinton’s got the same curse — for all the good and bad things he did as president and everything he’s done since and will do, when he dies the world’s most famous blow job will be in the first paragraph of his obituary. Dumb stuff never goes away.

On the other hand, Clear Channel Communications is one of the most evil corporations in the United States, a sleazy outfit that is trying to destroy radio here and has gone a long way toward monopolizing the industry. Clear Channel treats its workers badly and is notoriously antiunion. It’s the worst sort of unaccountable conglomerate — many of its radio stations operate on remote control, with virtually no local staff, and it’s almost impossible to get through to anyone at corporate headquarters in San Antonio. Lowry Mays, its chairperson, is a big contributor to the Republican Party and to right-wing causes.

And yet none of that stopped the Board of Supervisors from giving Clear Channel tentative approval for a lucrative contract to build and sell ads on bus shelters in San Francisco. The whole thing annoyed me. If there’s so much money in bus shelters, why can’t the city build them and sell the ads and make some cash for the General Fund? But that aside, I have to ask: Why are we doing business with these people? Shouldn’t corporations, which want to be treated legally the same as individuals, be held accountable for their actions and their history?

At least Sup. Tom Ammiano brought up some of Clear Channel’s record. Some labor leaders tried to scuttle the deal. But the bus drivers’ union really wanted the contract approved, because Clear Channel will dump a bunch of money into Muni, so it went through, 9–1, with only Sup. Ross Mirkarimi opposed (and Sup. Chris Daly absent).

Then there’s Sutter Health.

On Saturday, Oct. 20, when nobody read the newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Sutter is going to effectively shut down St. Luke’s Hospital in the Mission by turning it into an ambulatory clinic with an emergency room. No hospital beds, no place to put very sick people, nothing resembling the sort of service the district has counted on for decades. Instead, Sutter — which is allegedly a nonprofit but acts like a rapacious and greedy corporation — is going to stick San Francisco General with all of the uninsured sick people in the southeast neighborhoods while it gussies up its properties in the wealthier northern part of town.

The nurses have had to go on strike to demand better care for patients at Sutter. Even Mitch Katz, the city’s public health director, who is not known for blasting the private sector, has complained loudly that Sutter is doing a disservice to San Francisco.

And while all of this is going on, this allegedly nonprofit behemoth wants to build a $1.7 billion, 425-bed hospital at the old Cathedral Hill Hotel site at Van Ness and Geary.

Sutter only likes sick people who have good health insurance or are rich enough to pay cash. Perhaps the supervisors can remember that and hold these assholes accountable when they come to City Hall for a building permit.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

These are some of the things that Mayor Gavin Newsom has moved to turn over to the private sector in the past four years:

Housing for the mentally ill

Public golf courses

Camp Mather

The entire city broadband infrastructure

The city’s new power plants

Homeless outreach

Environmental cleanup

Recreation programs

Jail health services

Security guards at public institutions

Development of tidal energy

Reconstruction of public housing

And, of course, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. still controls the city’s power grid (illegally).

Yet when we talked to the mayor about privatization recently, he told us he’s generally against it. "Privatization is failing," he said. "So I’m not pro-privatization. I don’t look to privatize."

What’s going on here?

Well, for starters, the mayor isn’t being entirely candid. Newsom’s administration has been moving aggressively to adopt programs with names like "public-private partnerships" to take over jobs that ought to be in the public sector. Even when there’s something that is clearly the job of government — like building the information highway that will be more important than roads and bridges in the future — the mayor tries first to get the private sector to do it. "I look for ways to manage more creatively and more efficiently," Newsom said.

That’s in part because, for all his talk of bold initiatives, the mayor is a timid chief executive. At a time when politicians of all stripes around the nation are afraid to talk about tax hikes, afraid to talk about the value of the public sector, afraid to do anything that might remind people that Ronald Reagan was wrong, letting the private sector take the lead is easy and painless. As Sup. Jake McGoldrick told us, "I suspect that [Newsom] succumbs to the path of least resistance there because of the tremendous amount of pressure that the private sector puts on trying to gain control over public assets."

It would take a fair amount of effort and public money to keep, say, the golf courses under city control. Giving them to a private company is easy. Maybe the courses ought to be turned into soccer fields; that costs money too. Perhaps the easiest thing is to let the Fisher family, of Gap fame and fortune, pay for it (the way the family paid for the new playing surface at Garfield) — and then put up big "Gap Field" signs with blue jean ads, let the Fishers hold private parties there on Sundays, or charge admission … or something else "creative and efficient."

That’s how it works these days: instead of taxing the rich and spreading the benefits around through a democratic system, we let the rich set the agenda. If Don Fisher’s willing to pay for new soccer fields, then we get new fields. Maybe he (or some other private outfit) wants to save the golf courses; OK, we’ll do that instead.

Newsom isn’t Reagan or Grover Norquist; he’s not a rabid ideological promoter of privatization. He’s just a tame elected official who won’t stand up and fight, who won’t make it clear that San Francisco isn’t for sale, who won’t put his immense political capital on the line to preserve the public sector for the public. And for that, he is a failure.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

The Blue Angels buzzed the Castro Street Fair on Oct. 7, one of the planes missing the top of Twin Peaks by what looked like a few feet. And almost nobody seemed to notice.

The roar of the jets couldn’t possibly compete with the energy onstage, where Cookie Dough and the Monster Show were acting out a Wizard of Oz sketch to the sounds of "Boogie Oogie Oogie." I only saw one guy in the crowd even looking up, and he was just kind of shaking his head. Sailors are, of course, always popular in the Castro, but the United States Navy really isn’t.

A former Naval officer I know understands exactly why. She was drummed out years ago; the Naval Investigative Service followed her to a lesbian bar in New Orleans, and suddenly a talented and successful ensign who had just been promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) was tossed ashore, all benefits lost. She can joke about it now, but she’s still pissed.

The crazy thing of it all, she tells me, is that the Navy is "by far the gayest of all the services, and everyone knows it." If even this one branch just gave up the pretense and allowed queers to serve openly, she says, Fleet Week would take on a whole new meaning in San Francisco. But that’s not the only issue with Fleet Week, obviously. Like a lot of people in this town (and much of the queer community), I’m not terribly into the military, and I don’t like turning San Francisco into a giant, expensive recruitment ad. Besides, as we used to say about nuclear weapons, one Blue Angel can ruin your whole day: a few feet lower, a tiny mistake, and that F-A/18 flying toward Twin Peaks loaded with explosive jet fuel could have taken out hundreds of homes, killed thousands of people. It’s not as if it doesn’t happen; twice in the past year members of the Navy’s expert precision flying team have crashed.

There’s also the fact that this is a city overwhelmingly opposed to the war and to military adventurism in general. San Francisco’s idea of supporting the troops is bringing them home and giving them honorable discharges, medical care, and education benefits.

I’m always astonished that more local political leaders don’t just come out and say that. In fact, I’m astonished (although I probably shouldn’t be) that Mayor Gavin Newsom and Rep. Nancy Pelosi act as if Fleet Week is a wonderful San Francisco event, with no mention of the issues involved.

In fact, on June 11, after Sup. Chris Daly tried to ground the Blue Angels, Newsom wrote directly to David Winter, the secretary of the Navy, rolling out the red carpet. "My office and the community could not be more supportive of the Navy and their representatives, the Blue Angels," he wrote.

Nothing from Mr. Same-Sex Marriage about don’t ask, don’t tell. Nothing about the war. Nothing about San Francisco’s long and noble history as a center of the peace movement. Just praise for military might. He’s sounding a lot like Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

And by the way, on the contradictions beat: San Francisco is poised to give a huge, lucrative contract to Clear Channel Communications, one of the worst corporations in the country. Labor leaders are pissed, and they should be. I wonder: If there’s a lot of money to be made selling ads on bus shelters, why doesn’t the city just run the program itself? Why share the profits with the likes of Clear Channel?

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

The mayor of San Francisco stopped by Oct. 1 to tell us why we should endorse his reelection, and I walked away with a lot of information. For starters, the mayor is unhappy about a lot of things: he’s unhappy about the murder rate, he’s unhappy about Muni, he’s unhappy about the Housing Authority … he’s even unhappy about his mayoral ride (the Town Car ought to be running on alternative fuel). In the hour-long interview, he must have said he was "not satisfied" a dozen different times.

Which at least shows that he recognizes that the city has a few problems. And there’s no doubt that Gavin Newsom has come a long way in four years. He’s much more self-assured and confident in his positions.

In fact, he was argumentative a lot of the time; he kept saying he wasn’t going to accept the premises of our questions, most of which had to do with major areas in which he’s falling down on the job — Muni, violent crime, housing, open government, public power, and overall leadership, among other things. You can listen to the entire interview, unedited, here. But let me talk a bit about housing, since that’s the biggest issue in the city — and Newsom’s comments were a perfect explanation of why things are getting worse.

I asked the mayor if we are moving in the right direction on housing, since most of what the city is building is housing for the very rich, the city’s General Plan says that 64 percent of all new housing should be below market rate, and there’s absolutely no city plan to get there.

"I’m not going to accept the frame of your question," Newsom said (although he didn’t explain why).

He talked about the money (much of it federal and state) that he’s spent on affordable housing, then went on to say, "Since I’ve become mayor, we have permitted more housing than we have literally in a generation…. We’ve also been building as a consequence of that more-affordable housing. Is it 67 percent? I’m not sure it is in Chicago, New York, or LA. Maybe it is in Belgrade, [Serbia,] but I’m not sure it is in the United States, and I’m not sure any city can achieve that ambitious goal overall."

Me: "What you’re building is expensive, for-sale condos … virtually no rental, virtually no families with kids…. You’re bragging about building 6,000 new units of market-rate housing [per year], but it’s not doing anything for the city."

Newsom: "I’m not bragging about it. I’m saying we can do better and we can do more…. [But] we are not a socialist society. We cannot come in and say we are just going to build this housing without the ability to fund it."

Allow me to translate: Newsom thinks a large part of the answer to the housing crisis is to build more condos and be happy that the developers give the city a few morsels. In other words, he’s OK with a city where 80 percent of the new housing is only for the rich. And he thinks that in capitalist America, we have no other choice.

But no developer has a divine right to build anything in this town, and there are all sorts of ways to raise money for affordable housing, and blaming it all on capitalism won’t fly. I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor, but I’m just not satisfied.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi likes to say that murder and Muni are Mayor Gavin Newsom’s most obvious weaknesses, and there are all kinds of ideas about fixing Muni. Murder, that’s a little tougher.

The mayoral candidates we’ve been talking to all decry the city’s rise in violent crime, and they all say something has to be done. The district attorney says so, and so does the Police Officers Association. But there’s a lot of finger-pointing going on, and a lot of rhetoric and circling around and dodging. I realize it’s a tough, complicated issue; I realize that one city can’t utterly transform the socioeconomic impacts of more than a quarter century of federal neglect of inner cities. I know that poverty and desperation drive crime and violence, and what we’re experiencing in San Francisco won’t be solved by any one simple program.

But I have to say, I’ve heard an idea from one of the candidates that just makes a lot of common sense.

Lonnie Holmes, who almost certainly won’t be elected, told us in an endorsement interview that the mentor he relied on when he was a kid growing up in a tough neighborhood in San Francisco was the guy who ran the local recreation center. It was open all the time; Holmes would just drop in after school, hang out, play some basketball…. There was a place to go, with a caring adult who was a supervisor, coach, teacher, and role model. No pressure, no special classes to sign up for, no fee, no cost at the door. Just a local rec center. There are dozens of them, all over the city.

But these days a lot of them aren’t open as much. Budget cuts to the Recreation and Park Department have forced the rec centers to limit their hours. The center in Bernal Heights, where I live, used to be open on weekends; now the doors are mostly locked.

There’s not a lot in the way of quality public after-school programs either.

So kids who don’t have a stable home life, or whose parents or guardians are working two jobs and are rarely around, or who have any of a long list of factors that put them at risk for violence don’t have anywhere to go. Bad idea.

So why not a budget plan to fully fund all the rec centers and fund comprehensive after-school care as a means of violence prevention? It’s a lot cheaper than hiring a few hundred more cops.

Onward: there’s a fascinating comment at the very end of the seven-page city attorney’s opinion on Newsom’s call for mass resignations by department heads and other top city officials. It’s just two sentences, and the relevant part goes like this: "The resignations … may present other legal issues…. For example, there could be questions about whether to make public disclosures under certain city bonds or municipal debt issuances."

Here’s what that means: the city could be required to tell bond holders and underwriters that all of the department heads, the entire senior staff of the Mayor’s Office, and all commissioners — the combined pool of talent and experience at City Hall — have been asked to resign. If anything on this scale happened in a private business, the company’s stock would fall precipitously; one might assume that bond-rating agencies could consider San Francisco to be facing real leadership troubles and reduce our bond rating.

That, in turn, would cost the city a sizable amount of money.

I wonder, Mr. Mayor — did that ever occur to you?

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Allow me to postulate a few axioms that will help define the way we think about housing in San Francisco and put our cover story this week in context. Some of these laws are easily provable with existing data; the others, I admit, are loaded with political values. So be it.

Axiom number one: There are already too many rich people in San Francisco.

Socioeconomic diversity is essential to a healthy urban environment. Cities of the very rich (and typically, the very poor) are not good places to live; they become tourist destinations where a fake veneer of urbanism is pasted over a place with no real soul.

San Francisco is rapidly heading down that path — and the first and by far most important reason is the cost of housing.

Axiom number two: Private for-profit developers can never build us out of this housing crisis.

The housing market in San Francisco does not behave according to any of the rational rules you learn in Economics 101. This is an international city, a place with a global housing constituency. Demand for high-end condos in San Francisco is, for all practical purposes, unlimited and insatiable. You could build 50,000, 100,000 high-rise apartments, and the prices still wouldn’t come down to a level that would be affordable for most working-class San Franciscans.

Axiom number three: Any sane housing policy has to start with the acceptance of axiom number two.

Building more market-rate housing does nothing, nothing, nothing for the current crisis. There is no lack of housing options for the very rich in this town. The problem is housing for everyone else.

Axiom number four: When you have an irrational market for a basic necessity, the only way to make that market function is with strict regulation and aggressive government intervention.

Axiom number five: Increased density is not a positive environmental policy unless axiom number four is operative.

Building high-rises in which the housing is priced out of range of the people who actually work in San Francisco — and doesn’t offer the size and affordability the local workforce needs — does nothing to fight sprawl or build community. It just creates tall rich ghettos. (See axiom number one.)

Axiom number six: This city is running out of time.

There are virtually zero affordable apartments in this city for the people who make up the heart of San Francisco. We’re doing ecological damage by driving them out of town (and forcing them to drive back, in cars). We’re doing social damage by shattering communities (through evictions and displacement). And all we’re offering is modest tidbits of real planning (a few slightly more affordable units here and there for every 100 we give to the rich).

My conclusion, as we lay out in this week’s cover story, is that San Francisco has to turn its planning and housing policy upside down, to start treating housing as a necessity (as we’re doing with health care) and not something to be played with by speculators on the financial markets (look how well that worked with subprime mortgages) or an amenity for Silicon Valley commuters who would rather have a playground here than live closer to work.

Instead of zoning for developers, the city needs to do something really bold and say: This is the housing we want, the only housing we want — and then find a way to build it, with or without the private sector. As the axiom slingers say, quod erat demonstrandum.*

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I was talking the other day to the mayor’s chief political advisor, Eric Jaye, who thinks we should endorse his client for reelection. "Gavin Newsom," he told me, "is the most progressive mayor in San Francisco history."

Well, I haven’t been here for all of them, but in my 25 years or so, the competition hasn’t been terribly stiff. Newsom vs. Dianne Feinstein? That’s a no-brainer. Newsom vs. Frank Jordan? Uh, what was the question again? Newsom vs. Willie Brown? Things are pretty bad now, but I never want to go through another era like the Brown years again.

Newsom vs. Art Agnos? Well, Agnos had a lot of potential and did some good stuff, but he also sold the city out to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and became such an arrogant jerk that he alienated a lot of his allies and nobody could work with him anymore.

So on one level, Jaye has a point: we’ve had some pretty rotten characters in room 200 at City Hall, and his guy isn’t by any means the worst.

But I keep coming back to my basic complaint: what has Newsom actually done about the crucial issues facing the city? Where is the leadership?

A few days earlier, I’d had lunch with Jack Davis, the gleefully notorious political consultant, and we got to talking about housing and rent control, which I’ve always strongly promoted and Davis’s landlord clients have always bitterly opposed. And we realized, two old opponents, that on one level that battle is over: it was lost years ago, when San Francisco failed (and then the state preempted our ability) to regulate rents on vacant apartments. The wave of Ellis Act evictions has damaged the situation even more. The limited rent control in San Francisco today can’t possibly keep housing even remotely affordable. The only way to fix the problem would be to roll back all rents to their levels of about 15 years ago; anyone (besides me) want to take on that campaign?

So what, Davis asked, would I do about it?

Since Newsom is going to be reelected this fall anyway, let me suggest how he could live up to Jaye’s billing.

Imagine if the mayor of San Francisco called a meeting of all the key players in the local housing market — the residential builders, the big developers, the nonprofits, the tenant activists, the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition folks, the Board of Supervisors president, the neighborhood groups — and said something like this:

"San Francisco needs about 15,000 new affordable-housing units in the next five years. That’s housing for low-income people, housing for people who work in San Francisco … family housing, rental housing, land-trust housing, supportive housing, a mix of units at a mix of prices, but none of it out of the reach of blue-collar and service-industry workers.

"So here’s the deal: you people sit here and figure out a way to make it happen, including how to pay for it — and until you do, not one new market-rate project will get approved by my Planning Commission."

You suppose we might get a little action here? You think the developers who see a gold rush in the San Francisco housing market might be willing to play ball? You think that the mayor might show leadership on the most pressing problem facing residents and businesses in this town, the most serious drain on the local economy? It sure wouldn’t hurt to try.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Isn’t it just great that San Francisco was about to enter into a long-term contract to turn part of our municipal infrastructure over to a company that is laying off 40 percent of its employees, floundering around trying to find a business plan, and getting entirely out of the line of work Mayor Gavin Newsom had in mind?

I feel good that the young mayor (who is acting more and more like a little kid every day) was so careful in preparing plans for a citywide wi-fi service that he never acknowledged, up to the very end, that his public-private partnership was poorly conceived and headed for the rocks.

And now it’s just so special that he wants to blame the Board of Supervisors for scrutinizing the contract — which is exactly what any decent legislative body is supposed to do at a time like this.

The EarthLink nosedive happened at the perfect time for San Francisco. If the company had hung on a little longer to its business plan for citywide wi-fi, the mayor might have managed to push enough supervisors to sign on to the deal. Or his November ballot measure might have passed, and the board might have been afraid to defy the voters. This might have been a grand little fiscal, legal, and political nightmare that could have stalled any progress on municipal broadband for years.

Newsom still insists that he was on the right track. "EarthLink would have been legally obligated to fulfill its promises to San Francisco, and we would have had a functioning wi-fi system by now," Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle.

But the reality is, a company that doesn’t want to do a job that no longer fits into its business strategy — and a company having enough financial problems that it’s had to cut its staff almost in half — isn’t what you would call an excellent partner. And we can all thank the fact that this Board of Supervisors is relatively independent of the Mayor’s Office for our not being stuck in a rotten deal.

San Francisco doesn’t have a terribly good record of negotiating public-private partnerships or development deals. Back in the early 1980s, then-mayor Dianne Feinstein personally took control of the negotiations with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for a long-term contract to transmit the city’s power. The deal was about as bad as it could get — everything for PG&E, nothing for the city — but the mayor insisted it was an excellent contract, and she and PG&E’s lobbyists rammed it through a compliant Board of Supervisors. It’s wound up costing San Francisco tens of millions of dollars, and the city’s been trying to get out of it for years. PG&E’s franchise fee is the lowest that any city charges a private utility in California — and it was assigned in perpetuity by a compliant Board of Supervisors in the 1930s.

We’re supposed to be a little more sophisticated today. District elections have ended the mayoral rubber stamp at City Hall, and the mayor should understand that any time he works out a deal like this, the supes are going to give it a hard look. If it’s so great for everyone, then making the details public as early as possible, working with the board (instead of refusing even to show up), and sharpening the deal will make things even better.

That’s not how this mayor does business. And you can tell. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

You’d think that this was a Republican town, with the way the local news media have been bashing not only the left but also some of the better, more effective, and more functional progressive institutions in San Francisco. I wouldn’t waste my time with this stuff, but there are real issues here.

I woke up Aug. 21 to a San Francisco Chronicle headline proclaiming "Anti-gentrification Forces Stymie Housing Development." The piece, by Robert Selna, opened with the sad, sad tale of a poor auto shop owner who wants to "build eight apartments and condominiums on an empty lot next to his Mission District auto shop and rent some of the apartments to his mechanics."

Well, it turns out that the evil Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition is fighting that plan, Selna reported, "insisting that [the] project not go forward until the city evaluates how new development on the city’s east side will affect industrial land, jobs, and housing."

The message: a little entrepreneur is getting hosed by a big, bad "not in my backyard" group that wants to stop new housing. The implication (and this is just the latest example of this stunning lie): the left in San Francisco is against building housing.

Well, for starters, MAC is playing only a modest sideline role in fighting the 736 Valencia project, a five-story structure that is designated legally for condos and includes no affordable housing. The real opposition is a group called Valencia Neighbors for Community Development. The issue, Valencia neighborhood activist Julie Ledbetter said, is that as many as nine new market-rate housing projects are in the pipeline for a short stretch of Valencia, and they shouldn’t be approved one by one without any regard for the cumulative impact.

MAC activist Eric Quezada told me that the organization has indeed taken the position that the city shouldn’t go forward with any more market-rate housing projects until it’s completed a legally mandated environmental study of the cumulative impacts of high-end condos on displacement, blue-collar jobs, and overall land use.

But that doesn’t mean MAC is against housing.

In fact — and this is the killer here — MAC emerged in the dot-com era almost entirely out of the nonprofit housing community. Some of its earliest and most prominent members were (gasp) housing developers. Just for the record, nonprofits have built something like 25,000 low- and moderate-income housing units in this city in the past 25 years. That is housing the city needs, housing that meets the city’s own clearly stated goals. And the progressives, people like the MAC members, are essentially the only ones who have built any affordable housing in the city at all.

Selna told me that he didn’t write the headline and "isn’t taking sides in this." I realize it’s not all his fault that he’s stumbled into a political hornet’s nest — but he has.

Then in the Aug. 22 SF Weekly, Matt Smith wrote that the left is turning this city into nothing but a tourist trap by promoting "a price-goosing apartment shortage of 30,000 to 70,000 units." That’s what, 140 giant new towers, or 7,000 10-unit buildings … that will go where? And what if (as is likely) rents still don’t come down? (Smith had no comment when I called him.)

And now C.W. Nevius of the Chronicle wants to shut down the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council Recycling Center so that homeless people won’t have any money … and will what — panhandle more aggressively? Break into cars? Makes perfect sense to me.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

It’s all unofficial at this point, but I’m hearing that Mayor Gavin Newsom is (finally) getting ready to appoint a new city planning director, a fact that sounds like an uninteresting bit of bureaucratic business but is actually one of the most important decisions he’ll ever make. And it will impact everyone who lives in the city, for years to come.

The director of city planning holds an immensely powerful job in this town. You wonder why there are too many cars on the streets and too many tall office buildings downtown, why there’s not enough affordable housing and not enough open space, why Muni is overcrowded and doesn’t run on time? I can trace all of those problems back to decisions made by the city’s planning directors over the past several decades.

In theory, the director reports to the Planning Commission, which sets policy on things like desirable types of development, where offices should go, where blue-collar jobs should be protected, and how many new people can be crammed into a geographic area without overwhelming the capacity of the streets and the transit systems. The way city planning textbooks talk about the job, planners develop visions of urban space, looking at what patterns of land use and development will improve the quality of life in a community, then set zoning rules to foster those visions.

In reality, here’s what’s been happening under the incumbent, Dean Macris, in San Francisco:

A developer who wants to make a lot of money building a project — these days, probably a high-rise full of expensive condos — hires a fancy architect and comes to the planning director with a proposal. The fancy architect talks about (to use the sort of language you actually hear inside the Planning Department) "a tall, slender shaft rising between the mounds of the downtown skyline" — no, I didn’t make that up — and next thing you know, Macris is in love. Oooh, he wants that tower — so he and his staff devise planning rules and guidelines to make it possible for the developer to build it.

(Of course, the way the Planning Department budget works only encourages that sort of behavior. Much of the money to run Macris’s fiefdom comes from developer fees. No developers, no fees.)

Then the activists come along and demand that the developer kick something back to the community. So the developer — who stands to make an absolute killing on the project — throws a few dollars around for a little bit of affordable housing and a few community amenities. And next thing you know, there’s an enormous high-rise under construction.

Developer-driven planning is, by definition, terrible. It was under Macris’s prior reign, in the 1980s, that something like 30 million square feet of high-rise office space was built downtown, driving up housing prices, attracting more traffic, overburdening Muni, and, since high-rise offices cost more to serve than they pay in taxes, hammering the city budget.

And now the city is poised to make some absolutely critical decisions about the future. We need a real planning director who isn’t a developer toady.

The search is down to two or maybe three candidates, at least one of them truly awful. And I hear from good sources that Newsom is listening to Macris’s advice on the choice. I fear for my city.<\!s>*

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I’ve looked at all the grand designs for the tower that will pay for the new Transbay Terminal, and I’ve read the architectural critiques, and frankly, I’m sick of it all. The plans are all ugly, and they’re way out of scale for this city — but what really gets me is that this is how we’ve chosen to finance our civic infrastructure.

Why do we have to live with a giant high-rise office tower near the Transbay Terminal? Because if we don’t, there won’t be any money to build what should be the central transit link for the Bay Area, a landmark bus and train station on the scale (we’re told) of Grand Central in New York.

I’m not entirely in agreement with every decision that’s been made about the new terminal, but I do agree that it ought to be an essential part of the city’s future. As we shift away from the car and the freeway as the basic units of transportation in California — and we have no choice, we simply have to — a downtown center where trains and buses stop and people come and go will become what the Ferry Building was long, long ago. It will be the way people arrive in San Francisco. We need to make it work.

But the project will cost a lot of money, almost $1 billion — and nobody wants to pay higher taxes to fund this sort of thing. In fact, nobody in California wants to pay higher taxes for anything. So the folks at City Hall have decided that the only way we can have a new transit terminal is if we hock a piece of our city and our skyline to fund it. So we take some of the land on the terminal site and let a developer build a monstrosity of a high-rise on it — and that will bring in the money that we can’t get any other way.

It’s the same reason we have that god-awful Rincon Tower sticking its ugly head into the sky: the developer offered to pay for a fair amount of affordable housing and other community amenities that the taxpayers won’t fund because local government can’t raise taxes in California without reaching extraordinary lengths that are almost politically impossible. So here’s the deal: You want affordable housing? Give a big developer the rights to do something awful, and in exchange, we’ll get a few dollops of cash for civic needs.

Imagine for a moment what the state might look like if we’d had to cut this kind of deal to build the University of California system. You want nice colleges, with higher education available to every state resident who qualifies? OK — sell off the coast and let it become a giant Miami Beach. Or sell the Klamath, the Tuolumne, and a few other rivers to Disney for water parks. Or sell Muir Woods for condos. You don’t want to do that? Too bad — no world-class university system for your kids.

This is the devil’s bargain we have agreed to settle for in 2007. This is how we create public space, public facilities, public amenities. We save the Presidio by giving it to George Lucas. We create a wi-fi system by giving the broadband infrastructure to Google and EarthLink. We can’t do anything ourselves, as a community; all we can do is grab for the scraps the private sector will toss us.

My friends, this sucks. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

John Ross has always known, as he says in this week’s cover story, that there’s a bullet out there with his name on it. Reporters who aren’t afraid to go where the news takes them, people who want to let the world know about deep injustice in parts of the world where most of us would never dare tread, risk their lives every day.

Brad Will was one of those people. He was an activist reporter in the grand old tradition, carrying a used video camera all over Latin America, drawn to the most explosive flash points, seeking images and stories. Often he paid his own way and posted his work for no wage on places like Indymedia.

He arrived in Oaxaca, Mexico, in the fall of 2006 to cover a violent strike by radical teachers. Will didn’t have the third-world street smarts that John has developed over a quarter of a century, but he was fearless — and when the bullet finally came for him, he filmed his own murder. John this week tells the story of how Will’s killers escaped prosecution — and he reminds us how popular it’s becoming to kill the messenger.

Apparently, you don’t have to be in a Mexican gunfight to fall victim to that sentiment either. Last week, the editor of the Oakland Post was assassinated; police now say the murderer was a worker at Your Black Muslim Bakery, an organization known for past violence that Chauncey Bailey was investigating.

Reporters in this country tend to think we’re pretty safe from the sorts of retributive violence common in other parts of the world. It’s rare that an American journalist is killed at home because somebody didn’t want a story told. But times are changing; more reporters are facing prison at the hands of the authorities, and now at least one local writer is dead, quite possibly on account of what he had to say.

Scary shit. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

There’s a new move afoot, this time through a lawsuit, to change the way taxicab permits work in San Francisco. Rachel Stern lays out the story on page 14, but allow me to offer a bit of political background:

The San Francisco cab industry works as a medieval class system. There are members of the landed gentry — people who have medallions, or operating permits — and there are serfs, people who drive cabs but don’t have permits. The serfs fork over a significant portion of their income every day to the gentry in the form of lease fees, the same way the peasants used to fork over much of their income for the right to live near a castle or hunt or farm on the gentry’s land. See, you can’t drive a cab without a permit, and if you don’t have one, you have to lease one from someone who does.

Drivers are all independent contractors, so they get no health insurance or disability and retirement benefits.

In this particular economic world, even the permit holders aren’t getting rich. The only ones who really make out are the top royalty, the cab companies themselves. But the gentry do a lot better than the serfs.

What’s interesting, though, and wonderful in its way, is that thanks to a 1978 law backed by that well-known Marxist former supervisor Quentin Kopp, you can’t inherit your way into the landed gentry. You can’t buy your way in, borrow your way in, or marry your way in. The only way to become a medallion holder is to put your name on a list and wait, along with all the other serfs, until, after 15 years or so, a permit opens up.

And the way a permits opens up is that someone who has one quits driving.

That’s the deal Kopp put together: only active, working drivers are supposed to get the benefits of the medallions. No corporations, no partnerships, no trusts, no relatives…. You personally drive a cab 800 hours a year, and you’re eligible to lease your permit out during those shifts when you’re not using it.

Of course, once a driver becomes a member of the landed gentry, he or she never wants to give up that permit. It’s free income, maybe worth $2,000 a month. The Medallion Holders Association desperately wants its members to be able to keep their permits when they retire, or be able to give them to their kids, or somehow cement them as property that a person can own, just like the forests and fields of the landed gentry of yore.

The latest issue is disability. Suppose you wait patiently for 15 years, suffering in serfdom, and your number finally comes up, and you get that golden ticket — and then you get in an accident and lose the ability to drive a car. I get the point; maybe there ought to be some transition program or something. But every time a nondriver gets to keep a permit, a serf waits even longer in line, forking over hundreds of dollars to a member of the gentry who doesn’t want to play by the rules anymore.

The bottom line is, cab permits belong to the city, and they aren’t supposed to be someone’s retirement fund. I don’t like any sort of rigid class system, but if you’re going to have one, the serfs deserve fairness too.<\!s>*

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Yeah, man, I was there: I saw the Grateful Dead play "Dark Star" on New Year’s Eve. Heavy.

Only it wasn’t 1967. It was 1981, becoming ’82, and we were at the Oakland Coliseum, not the Panhandle. The Summer of Love was long gone; Haight Street was at war, not over drugs but over gentrification, and the cops were cruising up and down, looking not for hippies selling pot and acid but for the self-proclaimed Mindless Thugs, who were throwing bricks through the windows of upscale stores and fancy bars.

Everybody falls in love with San Francisco the way it was the day they arrived, and mine was a distinctly anarchopunk scene. The soundtrack wasn’t Scott McKenzie and flowers in your hair; it was Jello Biafra, "California über Alles," and the kids were getting all bloody and bruised from slam dancing in clubs with black walls instead of mellowing out and digging the colors of the trippy light show.

But the spirit of the 1960s was still very much alive. The Summer of Love gets a bit glorified in the retelling, but in the end the part that survived was a spirit of community and rebellion. We were here because we didn’t feel like we belonged anywhere else, and as quickly as we could set down roots, we decided it was our city and we wouldn’t let the greedheads take it away from us.

And it’s been an endless battle for the past quarter century, but the bad guys still haven’t won; though much is taken, much abides … and every year we celebrate the best of the world’s best city with the original, first-in-the-nation Best of the Bay.

This year’s issue is in part a tribute to that summer 40 years ago when a new kind of politics, music, and culture was emerging in a city where Bruce B. Brugmann and Jean Dibble were helping create a new kind of journalism. Our local heroes this year are all people who were part of the Summer of Love — and are still doing cool stuff today.

It’s also a tribute to everything sensational in San Francisco. And now and then and forever, there’s plenty. *

Editor’s Notes


EDITORS NOTES There was a fascinating moment July 11 at the San Francisco Board of Appeals meeting, a rare and revealing look into how city planning really works — and who calls the shots.

At issue was a proposal for two condo towers at Tenth Street and Market, one of which would soar 352 feet into the air — well above current height limits for the site. The developer also wants to put in 578 parking spaces, 399 more than the city Planning Code currently allows. It’s a monster of a project that would require seven planning code exceptions, two conditional use permits, and four zoning variances.

In other words, it’s not exactly what’s envisioned in the Planning Code for that particular lot.

But that didn’t bother Craig Nikitas, the city Planning Department staffer working on the project. In fact, in a long statement to the appeals board, Nikitas announced that city planners encourage developers to defy the current planning code since the planners think it’s outdated.

"The Planning Department encourages many project sponsors for tall buildings to use [a] height exemption," he said. That leads to "a taller building but a slimmer building…. That’s the kind of urban design we’re looking for nowadays."

Well, maybe — but the Downtown Plan, passed in 1984, calls for a very different type of design. It seeks buildings with setbacks (the so-called wedding cake look). That approach, which we all fought over in hearing after hearing before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, was designed in part to maximize sunlight at street level. That look may be old-fashioned architecture; it may not be what the current generation of planners wants. But it’s official city policy, city law.

If Nikitas and his boss, Dean Macris, want to change the guidelines for new buildings, there’s a procedure for that. You recommend changes to the Planning Commission, which can hold hearings and send new Planning Code changes to the Board of Supervisors. Then we all can discuss them in our usual, moderately civil, San Francisco fashion.

But that’s not how it works. Behind closed doors, the planners decide what they want the city to look like. Then they encourage developers to fit that model and bend the codes to make it all fit.

This is nothing new, but it’s rare to get such a clear admission, on tape, of why city planning in this town is so utterly screwed up.

In other news: there’s a bill before the State Legislature that’s supported by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Guardian. Labor likes it. The mayor likes it. The supervisors like it. And it could bring the city another $71 million a year in badly needed revenue (more than enough, for example, to solve Muni’s structural budget woes).

And yet it’s hung up in a Senate committee because Don Perata, the East Bay senator who is the president pro tem, doesn’t want any tax bills to go to the floor this year.

The bill by Assemblymember Mark Leno would allow — not require, but allow — the supervisors to put before the voters a proposal to increase the license fees on cars in this city to the level they were before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut them statewide. If San Francisco voters choose to tax their own cars, they will have the option; that’s all it is. Yet Perata’s press aide, Alicia Trost, told me it won’t even get a vote.

If you think that’s nuts, you can reach the good senator at (916) 651-4009.*

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I don’t think anyone except Gavin Newsom’s inner circle and the folks who run Google and EarthLink really likes the mayor’s wi-fi contract, but it now appears at least possible that the Board of Supervisors will approve some version of it.

Board president Aaron Peskin wants the service improved a bit and is demanding some written guarantees that it will actually work the way it’s supposed to. Some opponents of the deal are arguing that it ought to be treated as a franchise, not a simple contract, and they want more legal hurdles. The serious techies say it’s the wrong technology anyway and will be outmoded and worthless in just a few years.

But there’s something bigger going on here.

A high-speed broadband system for San Francisco isn’t a hot dog stand and boat-rental shop in Golden Gate Park. It isn’t a restaurant lease on port property. It isn’t the naming rights for Candlestick Park or a permit to operate a taxicab or deliver cable TV.

Those are contracts and franchises. This is a piece of municipal infrastructure; it’s more like the roads that cars and Muni buses use to carry people around town or the pipes that bring water to our houses or the public schools that educate our kids or the emergency communications system that takes the call when we dial 911.

This is part of the city’s future, part of its economic development, part of how its citizens will participate in the political debate, part of how we will all learn and think and talk to each other. This is the new public square, the new commons.

Why in the world would we want to give it to a private company?

I don’t care if EarthLink and Google are offering 300 kilobauds per second of download time or 500 or 1,000. I don’t care if they promise to give free laptops to anyone who can stand on their head and shout "search engine." I don’t care if they promise to paint every light pole in the city green. They are private outfits set up to make a profit for investors. They have no business owning what will soon be the city’s primary communication system.

San Francisco has kept private operators from controlling its drinking water. This water is considered a basic part of life, and it’s available at low cost: San Franciscans pay less than one one-thousandth the price of bottled water for the stuff that comes out of the tap, and it’s almost certainly better. Same with roads and bridges, police and fire protection, and basic education (although that’s still a struggle).

I don’t get why broadband is any different.

I don’t think this would ever have been an issue 50 years ago. The generation that survived the Depression (with massive public-sector investment and ownership) and World War II (with huge excess-profits taxes on big corporations) and built things like the interstate highway system and the University of California didn’t see government as evil and inherently dysfunctional. The public paid to invest in public services.

It was Ronald Reagan and his ilk who took a generation disillusioned by Vietnam and Watergate and turned it against the public sector (see "Needed: A Campaign Against Privatization," page 5). Now we’ve even got a privatized war (and look how well that’s going).

The supervisors should get beyond the wi-fi deal’s little details and think about what it really means. This is San Francisco. We know better.<\!s>*

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Fourth of July week is supposed to be slow; when I worked for a daily newspaper, we used to do long stories on the fireworks displays just to fill space on the pages. Not here. There’s so much going on it’s hard to keep track of it all, but here’s a quick rundown on what San Francisco is facing this week:

A bill that would lift a veil of secrecy hanging over police misconduct cases is stuck in the Assembly Committee on Public Safety — and Fiona Ma is one of those holding it up. Ma is a protégé of John Burton, who wasn’t easily intimidated, but she’s acting as if she’s terrified of the police lobby, which has mounted a major effort to kill the bill. It’s crazy — Ma has a fairly safe seat, and unlike some Democrats in marginal districts, she doesn’t have to fear that the cops will back a Republican against her. This is one of the worst moments in her career in Sacramento thus far, and she needs to get off the fence and back the bill when it comes up for reconsideration.

The long-awaited draft environmental impact report for the Eastern Neighborhoods zoning project just came out, and it says just about what I and many others had expected: following the proposals that the City Planning Department is putting forward would wipe out a fair number of blue-collar jobs and would not provide anywhere near enough affordable housing to meet the city’s stated needs. This ought to be a central issue in the mayor’s race (if there ever really is one); I’m not willing to accept as inevitable the loss of working-class San Francisco, and neither should the mayor.

Mayor Gavin Newsom finally signed the Community Choice Aggregation bill (see page 10) — but not with the sort of fanfare you’d expect for a program that could profoundly change the city’s energy future. Sen. Carole Migden has come forward with a bill to ensure that the power from city-owned renewable-energy projects is available to the city and doesn’t have to go into Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s maw.

Speaking of Migden: who exactly is paying for all those billboards with her face on them, touting her leadership? As we discuss on the www.sfbg.com politics blog, it’s a fascinating question. Michael Colbruno, a spokesperson for Clear Channel, which owns the billboards, refuses to say. He insists that the ads are simply "issue advocacy," which means nobody has to disclose who paid the tab. I’m not going argue campaign law with Clear Channel, but I suspect that Migden knows who gave her this nice present, worth tens of thousands of dollars. Perhaps she’ll share that information with the rest of us.

In the meantime, the folks at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce — those great champions of open government who love privatization and refused to support the Sunshine Initiative — have a sunshine measure of their own. They want the supervisors to hold hearings before placing anything on the ballot. That’s a direct attack on some recent ballot measures the chamber didn’t like.

I’m all for hearings. Hearings are good. But the law would require that the hearings be held 45 days in advance of the ballot, and that would be a serious drawback for progressives who want to get measures that couldn’t pass the board on the ballot. Frankly, I’m dubious about the chamber’s motives.*

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

My father died June 15, in Philadelphia. He was 82. He hated doctors (who kept telling him to quit smoking and drinking) and hospitals (which he alternately described as prisons and torture chambers, depending on how charitable he felt that day). When he realized that the emphysema had gotten the best of him and his days were numbered, he made it clear that all he wanted was to stay at home, so I and my siblings took time off, and for several weeks we helped my mother take care of him, keeping him as comfortable as we could until his lungs finally gave out and he stopped breathing. I gave the eulogy at his memorial service.

So I’m about tapped out on the emotional stuff, and I’ve said all I have to say about what a wonderful guy he was. But along the way I learned a couple of things that are worth thinking about.

Home hospice care has come a long way. When my friend Paulo died of AIDS in 1995, you had to be in a hospital to get easy access to drugs like morphine and Haldol, and if you were at home and woke up in horrible pain in the middle of the night, your friends had to take you to the emergency room and wait until a doctor could find time to give you a shot. The hospice program we had was awesome; the nurses gave us big jars of medicine, taught us how to administer the doses to relieve my dad’s pain, and told us that we shouldn’t worry if he asked for a cigarette (it was a bit late for lifestyle changes).

The insurance providing us with all of that top-rate care, and the remarkable social services that went along with it, came through a government program called Medicare. It has an overhead rate of about 3 percent, which makes it about five times as efficient as most private insurers. It’s not perfect — all health insurance in the United States is a bureaucratic nightmare, and even this coverage required intervention on the part of my family to keep things on the right track. But it’s available to seniors who don’t have much money, and it works.

While my dad was dying, I read some of the early reviews of Michael Moore’s Sicko in the East Coast media. I think my favorite was in the New York Post, which accused Moore of demanding that everyone in the United States get their health care from Fidel Castro. The critical reviews played up the fact that Moore fairly gushes about medical care in countries like Canada and France (along with Cuba) while people who live in such places with government-run health care systems complain about long waits for nonemergency treatment.

Perhaps so. I can’t argue the facts one way or another. I could argue that a system covering everyone at the cost of a bit of waiting for all is better than one that dumps all of the waiting, getting sicker, and dying on the poor and uninsured. But I will also argue that Moore is right (see Cheryl Eddy’s piece on page 64). This is the richest country in world history. We can have a public health system that works. We just need to get the private insurers the hell out of it.*

Editor’s Notes


It’s Pride, and I’m going to shamelessly plug something. ‘Tis the season for shameless plugging! Whatever your orientation, take a break from strutting your sizzling stuff soon and visit the GLBT Historical Society on Mission Street (www.glbthistory.org). The archives are a treasure trove, and "Out Ranks," the current exhibition displaying the effects of queer soldiers from World War II through Iraq, is a must-see.

To my mind, the only place gays in the military belong is on a porn DVD — definitely not on an aircraft carrier deployed to Kuwait. But there are incredible personal stories in "Out Ranks," scattered among the crisp dress uniforms and bright blue dishonorable discharge papers, many faded to a trendy shade of robin’s egg.

Stories like that of Sylvia Rivera, a transgender woman drafted in 1967 who fought police at Stonewall. Or Helen Harder, a Women’s Army Air Corps member who signed up during WWII with her girlfriend (how hot is that?). The show also contains relics of queer antiwar protests, including a poster of a hunky, half-naked Jesus screaming, "Thou Shalt Not Kill!" Yummy.

Recently, board member Gerard Koskovich gave me a tour of the society’s archives, the largest collection of queer historiana in existence. He showed me underground newsletters for queeny World War I GIs and photo albums of ’70s lesbian weddings. There were boxes of flyers for ancient gay bars like the Anxious Asp and Fickle Pickle, Super 8 reels of street riots and disco dance floors — and a container holding Harvey Milk’s bullet-riddled clothing.

"Here’s a gown the first Gay Empress, José Sarria, wore," Gerard said, unfurling a brittle re-creation of Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot ensemble from My Fair Lady. Tears sprang to my eyes. "And that," he said, pointing to a nondescript sewing machine, "is what Gilbert Baker sewed the first Pride flag on."

I lost it. All that fabulousness up close was just too much. I bent down quickly, pretending to tie my shoelaces to hide my exploding sobs.

It was then that I realized I was wearing pumps.

Sequined pumps. Purple sequined pumps. I stared down in astonishment. A pair of leopard-print hose raced up my legs, blooming at my upper thighs into a dazzling Lycra minidress. Enormous pads sprouted from my shoulders, and my hair kinked out into a frizzy bleached mullet. Good lord, I was becoming Sylvester. I was riding a giant mirror ball through space. "Yooou make me feel!<\!s>/ Mii-ighty real!"

It was all a hallucination, of course. Family can make you do that, hallucinate. Love is a drug indeed. And the glittery fabric of history, despite its many bullet holes, still connects us all.*

Editor’s Notes


› steve@sfbg.com

I’ve been obsessed with high-speed rail for a couple of months now. It started in March when I was in France and had my first experience on the TGV trains that zip between Paris and Lyon in less than two hours, about a third of the time it takes by car. The ease with which I stepped onto the train made my airport experiences seem like torturous tests of my capacity to endure long lines, inexplicable delays, nosy cops, bureaucratic madness, and fellow travelers made cranky by it all.

As the French countryside flew past me at 200 mph, I wondered why California has been unable to build a high-speed train connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, cities quite similar to Paris and Lyon in terms of distance and cultural importance. So I researched the issue and learned that the single biggest obstacle is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as I reported recently in "The Silver Bullet Train" (4/18/07), a story that the San Diego CityBeat then ran as its cover article in its last issue.

So I was intrigued to hear what Schwarzenegger had to say on the subject last week when he came to speak in a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. auditorium for an event sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. When asked about it, the governor said, "I’m a big believer in mass transit. I’m a big believer in high-speed rail. I think this high-speed rail is a great possibility, but I want us working on the public participation — private partnerships — then we can commit to the $10 billion to put in from the public sector."

Which, of course, is complete bullshit. The governor’s budget made big cuts in mass-transit spending, including chopping $28 million from BART and $36 million from Muni. And it proposed gutting the California High Speed Rail Authority, which has long planned for the need for private-sector funding support that Schwarzenegger claims will preclude next year’s $10 billion high-speed rail bond measure. Those who know the issue know how ridiculous the governor sounds.

"Based upon your encouragement, we have prepared the financing plan. If your support for an appropriate level of funding in 2007–<\d>08 is contingent upon securing specific commitments of funding from various public and private entities, you are the logical leader who can bring together California Congressional leaders and private financiers," CHSRA chair Quentin Kopp wrote to Schwarzenegger on May 25.

And still Schwarzenegger does nothing to support the project, which the downtown think tank San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) makes the focus of its June newsletter under the headline "High Speed Rail Essential to Keep California on Track: Trains Offer Best Bet for Fast, Clean Transport as State Grows."

It’s time for Schwarzenegger’s deeds to start matching his words, particularly on this crucial project.*

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

It’s too bad that acting superintendent Gwen Chan didn’t want to stick around a bit longer at the helm of the San Francisco public schools. She brought a lot of stability to the district after the insanely acrimonious final years under Arlene Ackerman (who won’t go away and is still suing the district for back pay, which is disgusting considering all the money she took out of the district).

But I ran into school board president Mark Sanchez at the Progressive Convention June 2, and he was all smiles about the guy the board seems ready to hire for the job. The almost-new superintendent is Carlos Garcia, who was the principal of Horace Mann Middle School from 1988 to 1991 and most recently was the head of the Las Vegas school district.

I have a son going into third grade and a daughter going into kindergarten, and I’m an unabashed fan of and advocate for public education in San Francisco. So I hope he’s everything the board members say he is.

But since he’s not taking press calls right now, I’m going to give him a little free, and public, advice.

There are real, lingering problems in the local schools, the biggest of which is the achievement gap. White kids and Asian kids and kids from wealthier families do far better than black kids and Latino kids and kids whose families don’t have much money. That’s unacceptable, and the new superintendent needs to make resolving that problem a priority.

He also needs to understand some facts of San Francisco life.

For starters, this city doesn’t like or tolerate arrogance or secrecy. The schools chief needs to be accessible, approachable, willing to listen, and willing to admit mistakes. Not everything you try will work, Mr. Superintendent; when you screw up, you can’t get your pants in a wad and refuse to say you’re sorry.

You’ve got some tough decisions to make, and they won’t all be popular. People are going to shout and protest and complain. Some of those people will be your own school board members. We like to air our disputes in public around here; it’s a political town, and we expect the people who run community institutions to work with their critics and their friends alike. It’s hot in the kitchen; get used to it before you arrive or this isn’t going to work.

And do not — do not — continue the previous superintendent’s policy of building a wall between the press and the district. Ackerman had a gag order in place and wouldn’t allow staffers to talk to reporters without her prior consent. Scrap that — publicly — your first day. Make it clear you have nothing to hide: records are open, your door is open, and your public relations staff exists to promote the schools, not your personal career.

Remember when you walk in the door: There’s a lot wrong with the district, but there’s also a lot right. There are some brilliant principals and a lot of wonderful, devoted teachers. Don’t make their lives any harder than they already are.

And please: for the sake of all of us, don’t make the San Francisco schoolkids lab rats for your pet educational theories. This isn’t a social-science experiment or a doctoral thesis you’re taking on. These are people’s lives. Have a little respect for that, and we’ll get along fine. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I love the whales, really I do. I even worked for Greenpeace once. I am in awe of these majestic creatures of the deep and see them as indicators of the health of the entire marine environment. Human beings should take care of their cetaceous fellow citizens of the watery planet. Folks, I am so down with the whales.

Yet as the two errant humpbacks led the news again for about the fifth night in a row and the Coast Guard cutters and the helicopters and the array of state wildlife officials and veterinarians swarmed around the Sacramento River basin, I had to stop and wonder, for about the 50th time:

Why don’t they treat wayward people like this?

Every day the streets of San Francisco are full of injured human beings, members of the species Homo sapiens who have been hit by the psychic or physical equivalent of boat propellers. There are women with children who stagger homeless from one place to another, unable to find their way to a functional family.

These living, breathing mammals do not get a special multiagency task force set up, with a designated full-time Coast Guard petty officer as a media liaison and a staff of dozens of officials from the military, the state Department of Fish and Game, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They don’t receive what amounts to an unlimited budget to get their wounds treated and their lives turned around.

And the media doesn’t pay any attention to them. Even when they die, as a couple hundred do every year. Nobody who owns a helicopter gives a shit about homeless people in San Francisco.

I’m not going to argue against the whale-rescue effort. I don’t think the Coast Guard ignored any looming terrorist threats in the nearby Pacific or let any sailors die in capsized crafts while it was helping the whales. It was probably a good training exercise for all involved, and hell, if it cost a million bucks, that’s less than the Pentagon wastes every five minutes or so in Iraq. Go team.

I’m just saying, that’s all. I’m just saying.


Way back in 1974, a guy named Sam Lovejoy went on trial for destroying a weather tower in Montague, Mass., that a local utility had built in preparation for the construction of a nuclear power plant. One of Lovejoy’s expert witnesses was John Gofman, a nuclear chemist and the author of the book Poison Power, who made the definitive argument against nuclear energy. The material created by a reactor, he said, must be guarded "99.9999 percent perfectly, in peace and war, with human error and human malice, guerrilla activities, psychotics, malfunction of equipment…. Do you believe there’s anything you’d like to guarantee will be done 99.9999 percent perfectly for 100,000 years?"

You can’t, was the point. Lovejoy walked.

And now, as Amanda Witherell reports in "Nuclear Greenwashing," page 15, the nuclear industry wants a new life. We all ought to know better. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Ken Garcia, who just loves to bash the left, announced in his Examiner column May 15 that the progressives in San Francisco are in disarray because we don’t have a candidate for mayor. That’s one way to look at it.

The other way — and, like many things in politics, it’s not entirely true but certainly not false — is that the process for choosing a candidate in this wonderful yet still pretty young progressive movement isn’t like anything Garcia would understand.

These days most candidates for public office tend to select themselves. You want to run, you go get the money and the initial support, and you announce. But it’s a little more complicated than that for San Francisco progressives. A lot of people — some elected officials, some community leaders, some hotheaded (and hardheaded) activists — want to be consulted and want a say in the decision. It’s not perfect democracy by any means, and it’s true that the lack of an obvious front-runner speaks to a certain degree of disorganization. But I’m also somewhat pleased that we don’t have a 600-pound gorilla demanding that the field be cleared. And Sup. Chris Daly’s proposed progressive convention may not work perfectly, but at least it’s a nod in the direction of the grass roots helping decide who will carry the torch.

Let’s remember: it’s been only seven years since the progressives finally ended three decades of stifling machine politics and cracked open the local system. Let’s remember: for much of the 1980s and ’90s, we had only self-selected candidates and unaccountable candidates for mayor. And now that the people who broke Willie Brown’s iron grip on San Francisco politics in 2000 are ready to run for higher office, it’s not surprising that they’re a bit cautious about jumping the gun.

We all know what’s going on: Aaron Peskin, Ross Mirkarimi, Chris Daly, and Matt Gonzalez have been approached and courted by all sorts of organizations and people. Peskin and Mirkarimi have said pretty flatly that they aren’t going to run. Daly will if he has to. And in the Chronicle on May 16, Matier and Ross proclaimed that Gonzalez is out of the picture.

I’m not so sure that’s true. I think Gonzalez — who starts off with the highest name recognition, poll numbers, and fundraising potential — is still taking a serious look at the race. I know he’s holding some preliminary house meetings this week and talking to people who aren’t among the traditional progressive voters. He’s also talking to his friends and allies. And I think it’s entirely possible that he could wind up deciding to go for it.

One very good thing that Daly has done is force that issue; if nobody else comes forward, Daly will announce at the convention, and then it will look lame and divisive for anyone else to join the race.

There are, of course, egos and personal agendas playing here; these are, after all, politicians, and (unfortunately) all of our major contenders are guys, which probably makes it worse. But again, let us remember: Daly, Peskin, Mirkarimi, and Gonzalez would all be good candidates. I’d be happy with any of them in room 200. They should all be happy with the idea that one of them could be the next mayor. And if we can all work together to pick a winner, then perhaps we can show the Ken Garcias of the world that this is a movement with legs. *

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

Sup. Chris Daly has kind of a cool idea: he wants to hold a progressive convention to pick a candidate and a platform for mayor. The date is June 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The place is the Tenderloin Community School. The idea is for hundreds of grassroots activists to gather, nominate someone to take on Gavin Newsom, and kick off a citywide campaign that will, at the very least, force the carefully protected mayor to come out from behind his handlers and answer some tough questions.

Not everyone thinks this is a good concept — and I’m the first to agree it’s a bit of a risk. It assumes, for example, that there’s a serious candidate for mayor whom we can all agree on and who actually wants to run for the job. And it assumes that we all really want to put the effort into a full-scale campaign against an incumbent who looks pretty close to unbeatable right now.

Neither of these is a trivial issue.

In theory, a nomination convention is a chance for constituents to choose among candidates who are competing for the right to seek office. Four years ago, when we had Tom Ammiano, Angela Alioto, and Matt Gonzalez in the race, a convention would have been fun, if not terribly useful; none of those people would have dropped out in favor of another based on one convention vote. But right now there’s not a lot of competition: nobody who has the profile to launch a credible race has stepped forward and volunteered for the mission. And it would look pretty lame to have the People speak and call for a candidate who then took the stage and declined.

If this is going to work, the situation has to change in the next few weeks. The folks who really don’t want to see Newsom get a bye are talking, and one of them is going to accept the responsibility. Me, I’d be happy with Daly, Matt Gonzalez, Aaron Peskin, or Ross Mirkarimi, but Gonzalez isn’t ready to announce anything at this point, Peskin has told me he’s not going to run, Mirkarimi is being awfully coy, and Daly seems pretty reluctant (although he hasn’t ruled it out, he says he’ll do it only if nobody else will).

Not everyone thinks it’s even worth the fight. Paul Hogarth, writing in BeyondChron.org, argued May 14 that it’s better to save our energy and let Newsom be a weak lame duck for another five years. After all, he hasn’t been able to do much harm — and now and then, he does something decent.

The problem is that the city has serious problems, and it’s not OK for a mayor to be missing in action this long. Think about the murder rate. Think about Muni. Think about the future of blue-collar jobs, affordable housing, and the eastern neighborhoods. Think about the fact that in the next four years, the last big piece of land where San Francisco can preserve blue-collar jobs and build affordable housing will be up for grabs. Think about the city’s soul. Because it really is on the line here — and I’m not ready to hand it over to Newsom again without a fight. *