I started getting all the usual calls last week, from all of the usual national media outlets, with all the usual questions that a local political reporter gets when a local politician makes good. “Who is Nancy Pelosi, really? What do her constituents think of her? Is she going to bring Burning Man and gay marriage to Washington?”
My answer to everyone, from the liberals to the conservatives, was exactly the same:
Relax. There’s nothing to get excited about. Pelosi is by no means a San Francisco liberal. She’s a Washington insider, a born and bred politician who cares more about power and money than she does about any particular ideology.
I’m glad the Democrats are in charge, and Pelosi deserves tremendous credit for making that happen. But she’s not about to push any kind of ambitious left-wing political or cultural agenda.
Just look at her record. Pelosi was weak on the war and late in opposing it. She was the author of the bill that gave that well-known pauper George Lucas the lucrative contract to build a commercial office building in a national park. She worked with Republicans such as Don Fisher of the Gap on the Presidio privatization and set a precedent for the National Park System that the most rabid antigovernment conservatives can love.
Just this week Bloomberg News reported that Pelosi is working with Silicon Valley venture capital firms to weaken the post-Enron Sarbanes-Oxley law, which mandates strict accounting procedures for publicly held corporations.
And just a couple of weeks before the election, she told 60 Minutes that same-sex marriage is “not an issue that we’re fighting about here.”
I think it’s pretty safe to say she’s never been to Burning Man.
Pelosi, who is backing antiwar but also anti-abortion Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha for majority leader, has an agenda for her first 100 hours. It’s nice moderate stuff — raising the minimum wage (to all of $7.25 an hour), lowering interest on student loans (but not replacing loans with grants), and allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower-priced drugs (but not making Medicare a national health insurance program for every American). Tactically, it’s brilliant: there won’t be a lot of national opposition, and Bush will look like a heel if he vetoes the bills.
In fact, as a political strategist and tactician, Pelosi has proven brilliant. She’s whipped together a dysfunctional party and led the most important electoral change to this country in more than a decade.
Along the way, though, she’s pretty much stopped representing San Francisco. On issue after issue, her constituents are way to the left of her. This fall she didn’t even bother to show up in the district (except to extract money for Democratic congressional campaigns around the country). She spent election night in Washington.
There are a lot of people who think that’s fine. Now that she’s speaker, she’ll be able to do a lot for this city, particularly when it comes to bringing in federal money. I appreciate the fact that her work on the national level, which often involved running away from San Francisco, will allow more-progressive Democrats like Los Angeles’s Maxine Waters to chair powerful committees that can go after White House cronyism and corruption.
But if the right-wing talk show hosts are worried about San Francisco liberals like me, they can take it easy: Nancy Pelosi is not one of us. SFBG
- No categories
I tell this story to politicians a lot, and I’m telling it again because there’s an awful lot of angst at City Hall over the demands of a few (admittedly madly aggressive) sunshine advocates who are coming close to paralyzing some departments.
The tale goes back, way back, to about 1986, when a reporter named Jim Balderston and I got onto a story about the horrible, potentially deadly problem of asbestos contamination in the public schools. We called Ray Cortines, who had just taken over as school superintendent, and asked to see a long, long list of district records — the sort of broad, sweeping request that makes city attorneys work hundreds of hours trying to decide how to comply.
But Cortines didn’t call the city attorney. He invited us over to district headquarters, took us into a room filled with file cabinets, and said: here you go. He told a staffer to help us make copies of what we needed. Then he left us alone.
No district lawyer sat in the room checking to be sure that there was nothing confidential in the files. Nobody prescreened the stuff for possible secrets.
We spent a week there and came out with some amazing stories that embarrassed a lot of district officials — and may have saved the lives of a lot of kids.
I’m sure there were reams of documents in those files that contained what are technically confidential bits of information. But here’s the amazing thing: nothing bad happened.
The district didn’t lose any lawsuits because of what ran in the paper. No labor contracts were jeopardized. No personnel records were wrongly exposed. Not a goddamn thing.
This is what drives me nuts about “metadata” and all the other stuff that gadflies like Kimo Crossman are asking for, tying the City Attorney’s Office in knots and costing the taxpayers all this money.
Please: just give it to them. The republic will survive. SFBG
There’s a certain brilliance to the Proposition 90 campaign, perhaps more than the right-wing ideologues who conjured this up even realize. The measure raises a profound, powerful question — and judging from some of the unlikely supporters of this horrible plan, the answer isn’t pleasant.
As we report in this issue (page 20), most people wouldn’t support the measure if they really understood what it meant (no more zoning, no more rent control, no more environmental laws, etc.) But for a lot of Californians and some San Franciscans in places like Bayview–Hunters Point, the real question seems to go like this: do you trust the government to protect you from the private sector — or do you see the government as such a problem, such a threat, so historically untrustworthy that you’ll take your chances with unregulated capitalism?
There are good people, well-meaning people, who are taking the wrong side on this one with potentially terrible consequences, and it’s largely, I think, because they don’t see the public sector as their friend.
I understand how anyone who’s fought redevelopment in the past 40 years can feel that way. Just about everything the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency did in this city, particularly in African American neighborhoods, has been a total disaster. Black support for Prop. 90 is the legacy of generations of corrupt urban politics.
The problem is that Prop. 90, which allows private developers to operate without regulation in urban areas, will be even more of a disaster. And if it passes, it won’t just be Republicans who vote for it. I hope I’m not the only one who finds this deeply frightening. SFBG
The San Francisco Examiner reported last week that enrollment in the local public schools is down by another 1,000 students this year, which means, some school board members say, that more sites will have to be closed.
I understand the economic issues — the state pays for education based on average daily attendance, and if fewer kids show up, the school district gets fewer dollars. And I’ll admit I have a dog in this fight: my son goes to McKinley Elementary, a wonderful school that represents everything that’s right about public education in San Francisco — and McKinley was on the hit list last year. It’s a small school; that makes it vulnerable.
I also understand that there are some things the school board can’t control. Families are leaving San Francisco in droves. That’s largely because of the high cost of housing, which is an issue for the mayor and the supervisors (and one that’s going to take a lot more work and resolve to address). So we’re going to lose some students that way.
But we’re also losing a lot of kids to private schools; I know that because I have good friends who’ve chosen that route, mostly because they don’t think the public schools can offer what they want for their kids. This is a perception problem, and it’s something the school board doesn’t have to sit back and accept.
That, I guess, is what really frustrates me — so many people simply saying that as a matter of strategic planning, we need to assume 1,000 fewer students a year will go to the public schools. The district spent around a quarter of a million dollars last year on a public relations office, and almost all the office seemed to do was hide information from the press and promote the career of then-superintendent Arlene Ackerman. Now Ackerman’s gone, and so is her officious flak, Lorna Ho. It’s time to take district PR seriously.
How hard would it be to have one PR staffer dedicated to creating a major citywide ad campaign promoting the public schools? I suspect it would be relatively easy to find a top-flight local ad firm that would work pro bono and not at all impossible to raise money for media (billboards, bus sides, direct mail, print ads, TV, whatever). Lots of prominent people would do testimonials. Set a goal: no enrollment drop-off next year. Before we close any more schools, it’s worth a try.
Now this: Clear Channel, which owns 10 radio stations in San Francisco and does almost no local public affairs programming at all, recently dropped its only decent San Francisco show, Keepin’ It Real with Will and Willie on KQKE, and replaced it with a syndicated feed out of Los Angeles. To listen to most of Clear Channel radio, you’d never actually know that you’re in San Francisco; the giant Texas chain doesn’t care anything about this community.
If you’re sick of this kind of behavior by an increasingly consolidated monopoly broadcast industry (using, by the way, the public airwaves), you’re not alone: Media Alliance, the Youth Media Council, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will host a hearing on media consolidation in Oakland on Oct. 27, and two Federal Communications Commission members, Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, will be there to take public comments.
The hearing’s at the Oakland Marriott Civic Center, 1001 Broadway. For more information, go to www.media-alliance.org. SFBG
I get a little nervous when I hear prominent Democratic leaders talking about how important it is to elect John Garamendi lieutenant governor. Republican Tom McClintock, his ugly-right Republican foe, is such bad news that he must be stopped; the checkbooks need to come out and the boots need to hit the ground.
I don’t disagree on one level — but the prospect of a bad lieutenant governor isn’t by any means the scariest thing that could happen in November. In fact, the prospect of another four years of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t the scariest thing. That designation is reserved for Proposition 90.
And the situation with Prop. 90 is pretty damn scary.
This is a measure that would effectively end the ability of state and local government to regulate business. It would prevent any new law reguutf8g rents or condo conversion. It would halt most new zoning (and would allow developers to build almost anything they want in Southeast San Francisco). It’s awful, awful, awful.
And right now, it’s way ahead in the polls.
There’s a reason for that: the right-wing backers have carefully hidden the worst of the measure behind language about halting the abuses of eminent domain. If you ask California voters whether the government should be able to seize someone’s house to hand it over to a private developer who wants to build a Wal-Mart, 90 percent of them will say no. And if we hit Nov. 7 and the majority of the electorate thinks of this proposition as a way to protect homeowners, it’s going to pass.
The No on 90 message is a bit more complicated. That’s the problem with this sort of Trojan horse initiative — it’s hard to explain why it’s bad in a 30-second sound bite. But it’s possible: every single public safety group in the state (cops, firefighters, etc.) is against it, as is every major environmental group and some of the big taxpayer-rights groups, who say it will cost the public a fortune and lead to bogus lawsuits.
Explain it right and the voters will get it — but in California, that’s a very expensive proposition.
The airwaves are choked with political TV ads right now. Schwarzenegger and Phil Angelides are beating each other up, the tobacco companies and the health industry are battling over the cigarette tax (Proposition 86), the oil companies and environmentalists are going at it over Proposition 87 — and needless to say, with all the numerical alphabet soup, the public’s attention is a bit scattered.
Without a really big splash in the next few weeks, it will be hard for No on 90 to be heard above the din.
The campaign isn’t by any means floundering. The two main No on 90 committees have raised more than $3 million and have about half of that still in the bank. But $1.5 million isn’t going to be enough to make the case in a huge state where TV time is really expensive.
Most of the money right now comes from political action committees controlled by the League of California Cities, the State Association of Counties, and a few well-heeled businesses. But everyone needs to step up here; all these Democrats who have big stashes of money (Carole Migden, John Burton, etc.) need to get on the stick before we run out of time. SFBG
There’s something scary happening in Bayview–Hunters Point, and it’s not the redevelopment bulldozers.
For some reason that I find hard to understand, community leaders like Willie Ratcliff and Marie Harrison, who are opposed to the Redevelopment Agency’s plan for that neighborhood, have signed on with a frightening gang of radical right-wing property rights advocates. The result: Harrison was standing at an antiredevelopment rally last week urging voters to support Proposition 90, almost certainly the worst piece of legislation to face California voters since Proposition 13 devastated local government in 1978.
Prop. 90 would indeed limit the ability of government agencies to seize private land for other private projects. That’s why the redevelopment foes like it. But it goes much, much further. Under Prop. 90, no local government could do anything — anything — that might reduce the value of private land without paying the owner compensation. That means no new tenant protection laws (which could cost a landlord money). No more zoning laws that reduce the maximum development potential of a lot (of course, that means no zoning controls against luxury condos that would displace local business and residents in Bayview). No new environmental or workplace safety laws.
It also places a swift and powerful kick to the midsection of any effort to seize Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s local grid and create a real public power system; under Prop. 90’s rules, that would be prohibitively expensive.
I talked to Harrison about this, and she told me she “didn’t read the law that way.” But this isn’t just a matter of opinion; it’s clear fact, and everyone with any sense realizes it.
It gets worse: I was at a New College event Sept. 29 when Renee Saucedo, the immigrant rights lawyer, asked everyone to vote yes on 90. She told me she trusted Ratcliff and Harrison.
Prop. 90 is almost unimaginably bad. If its supporters can make inroads in San Francisco, I’m very afraid. SFBG
None of the candidates for public office this year can beat the performance of a 2004 supervisorial hopeful who showed up at the Guardian office for an endorsement interview with a completely spaced-out homeless friend in tow. The candidate was talking rapid-fire for an hour, shifting effortlessly back and forth from his history as a welfare recipient turned bartender turned subject of a drug bust turned successful businessperson to his suggestions for public policy and proposals for improving the neighborhood. His pal was muttering the entire time, off in his own world, his random comments a kind of atonal counterpoint to the candidate’s high-speed pronouncements and reminiscences — until the would-be politician began to talk about the time years ago when the cops caught him with a bunch of LSD that wasn’t really his. Quite a bit of LSD. At the description of the inventory, the sidekick snapped out of his reverie for a moment and proclaimed, “That’s a lot of dose.” Then he was back to his own world.
The 2006 contenders are a much more predictable lot, generally speaking. But there have been some moments.
At the top of the list, I think, were Starchild, the Libertarian candidate for District 8 supervisor, and Philip Berg, the Libertarian for Congress, who came in together and told us that the city would be a much safer place if the entire populace were armed — not just with handguns but with AK-47s — and that the trouble-plagued Halloween Night in the Castro would be much more peaceful if everyone who attended had a weapon.
I’ve always wanted the rest of the world to be able to share these moments with us — Guardian endorsement interviews are great moments in policy formation and political debate, as well as high theater of the finest kind. Soon we’ll have them online, unedited — questions, answers, speeches (ours and theirs), fights, laughs … every moment, for your listening pleasure. Check www.sfbg.com for details.
We generally don’t record interviews with people who just come down to the office to chat and give us advice about the election, which is fair — but I want to share a really sad moment with you. Sarah Lipson stopped by at my request to talk about the SF school board race; she’s one of the best members of that often-dysfunctional panel, the kind of person who gives you hope for the schools and for local politics … and she’s not seeking reelection. She misses teaching, she told us, and that’s understandable — but she also said that it’s basically impossible for someone with kids who isn’t rich to devote perhaps 30 or 40 hours a week to the school board and still have a job on the side.
Thing is, the San Francisco Board of Education, which oversees a half-billion-a-year budget, is essentially a volunteer ($500 a month) gig. That’s a model from a very different era, and it doesn’t work anymore.
San Francisco is a hideously expensive place, a city where almost nobody can support a family on one income. Full-time volunteerism is an impossible burden, and it means people like Lipson — who is exactly the sort of person we want setting policy for the schools — can’t serve on the board. Either you punish your family or you don’t do the job you want to do.
Being on the school board is a full-time job. We need to pay these folks a full-time salary. SFBG
I was six when they assassinated John F. Kennedy. It was warm and sunny in Dallas, but I remember the cold and snow in Rochester, NY. We were visiting my grandparents; I was walking with my mother to the grocery store when a guy driving by shouted the news out of his car window: “Did ya hear about the president? He was just shot.” We turned around and raced back to listen to the radio.
For the next few hours, the grown-ups in the big, roomy apartment were distracted, sort of shell-shocked. My grandpa, a solid Republican, never liked Kennedy the politician, and my dad didn’t particularly like Kennedy’s economic policies, but there was no joking about his death, no talk of covert government plots, no political speculation. Just sadness and respect.
The guy was the president. He fought in WWII. He came home and became part of a generation of optimism, just like my parents. Some lunatic had killed him, and that was just awful. “He was a great man,” my father told me later. “He wasn’t a great president, but he was a great man.”
It wasn’t until much, much later that I began to believe that a lot of what we’d been told about the assassination probably wasn’t true. Long before Watergate happened, Nov. 22, 1963, became a defining moment for baby boomers, the first major, world-changing event from which we developed a passionate distrust for the official government line. Today, I don’t think I know a single person my age who actually thinks Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
My son, Michael, won’t remember Sept. 11, 2001. He was barely two years old. But I’ll never forget the nervous feeling I got when I dropped him off at day care that morning. And I’ll never forget the realization that from the moment I started hearing news reports, I knew the government was lying to me.
I can’t sort out all of the Kennedy conspiracies and honestly, I don’t know exactly what happened on the day after my parents’ wedding anniversary five years ago. But I know that I will never tell my son that the president was a “great man.” When Michael asks me where I was Sept. 11, 2001, I’ll tell him it was a Tuesday morning and I was at work, writing a column for the next day’s paper that was as critical of the president of the United States as it was of the people who had just killed 3,000 Americans.
This doesn’t make me terribly comfortable.
See, I’m still a public sector kind of guy, someone who believes that for all its problems, democratically elected government is better than private corporatocracy, that for all the corruption, waste, and fraud, it’s still possible to have national health insurance, a progressive national housing policy, sound public education, and a lot of other things that probably wouldn’t have sounded all that weird to the folks who were my age in 1963.
So let me indulge in a truly strange conspiracy theory.
If I were a Bad Guy and I saw the baby boomers with all their energy and idealism and potential and I wanted to be sure that they never became a threat to the total dominance of private capital in America, I would have killed a president, covered it up, gone to war for no good reason, spied on them or their friends — and given an entire generation every reason to see that government was the enemy.
And it would have worked. SFBG
There are people at the daily newspapers around here who bristle when I accuse them of ignoring important local stories, particularly ones involving powerful political, business, or social figures (and most particularly, involving the newspapers themselves). No representative of the Hearst Corp. stands in the newsroom door announcing that stories about management will be sent to New York for prior censorship. Nobody tells the Chronicle’s reporters that they can’t cover a pressing story.
And I believe all that. I really do. I know it doesn’t work that way.
Carl Jensen knows that too. When he started Project Censored back in 1976, he knew he’d get a lot of criticism. “Censored” is a pretty strong word; it evokes a mirthless military guy with a pair of scissors and a big black pen, preventing real news from emerging out of a pressroom bunker somewhere.
But what Jensen has been trying to say for years is that the stories cited by Project Censored represent choices made by editors and publishers about what’s important in today’s world. That’s what the front page of a newspaper is — a set of choices. Is the confession of the purported killer of JonBenet Ramsey more important than the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping of millions of Americans? Is the latest news about Brad and Angelina more important than the latest news from Iraq? Is one man’s quest to take control of every daily newspaper in the Bay Area worth more than a first-day story and a few tiny news briefs?
Editors are paid to make those decisions — and the ones who want to keep their jobs know what the rules are. That’s why some stories get more coverage, more play, and more attention and some get deeply buried or published in one place and never picked up by anyone else.
Anyone who reads political blogs knows about stories like the ones on this year’s Project Censored list (see page 15). Nobody blacked out the news with a big rubber stamp; it just never got reported in the first place.
For a Sunday afternoon on a Labor Day weekend, it was truly impressive: I counted at least 300 people at the Delancey Street events room for the Sue Bierman memorial. Just about everyone on the local left seemed to be there, along with a few luminaries like John Burton, Gavin Newsom, and Willie Brown, who were Bierman’s friends even when they were wrong and she was right.
Newsom, who was often at odds with Bierman, looked out over the crowd and made the point succinctly: “This is what happens,” he said, “when you’re nice to people.”
There were many funny and moving stories. Burton, who showed up in his usual sartorial splendor (striped sweatpants and an untucked shirt, which makes me respect the guy as much as anything he’s ever done in politics) talked about how Bierman always, always enjoyed herself, even in the most boring political drudgery. It was wonderful to see her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren there (and wonderful for them to see how many people were part of Bierman’s San Francisco community).
Calvin Welch, her Haight Asbury neighbor, friend, and longtime comrade in arms, reminded us all that Bierman “created the neighborhood movement in San Francisco” — and that she did it in her own style, always believing that “fun is important.”
A lot of people go to political funerals because they have to; most of us went to this one because we wanted to. Thanks, Sue. SFBG
I was out of town when Sue Bierman died Aug. 6, her car crashing into a Dumpster near her Haight Ashbury home, in the neighborhood she loved. I was out of cell phone range and had no real Internet access, and the papers in Upstate New York didn’t carry the story. So I didn’t learn until I got home that San Francisco had lost one of its most vibrant, funny, warm, and passionate political voices.
Bierman, a native of Fremont, Neb., arrived in San Francisco in 1950. She was part of the first generation of urban environmentalists and was there at the birth of a movement that would change American cities forever.
The city that Sue Bierman adopted as her home was still largely a human-scale metropolis, a town coming out of World War II with a mix of blue-collar industry, a thriving waterfront, and a diverse population.
Her tenure as an activist tracked almost perfectly with the postwar assault on San Francisco by greedy real estate developers, speculators, and politicians who carried their water. She was part of the infamous freeway revolt, the successful effort by Haight residents to block a new elevated freeway that would have soared over part of Golden Gate Park. She was an early member of the anti–high rise crew that realized how intensive downtown development was going to turn San Francisco into another Manhattan. And when the late mayor George Moscone appointed her to the Planning Commission, she was a lonely voice for sanity through 16 years of development madness.
I first met her in 1983 when I was a young reporter covering planning and she was the only member of the commission who would ever come out against any major high-rise project. Over and over, she lost 6–1 votes.
When she was elected supervisor in 1990, she was not only a staunch environmentalist and neighborhood advocate but one of the few on the board at the time who really understood public power: as she would constantly remind her colleagues, she came from a state where electricity could never be sold by private entities for private profit.
And through year after year of brutal defeats, she kept not only her spirit but her sense of humor — and her personal warmth. She had none of the bitter anger that a lot of us took from that era. In fact, even when I criticized her both in private and in print for her loyalty to Willie Brown, she remained a friend. She never once had a harsh word to say to me.
A part of San Francisco passed when she died.
In other news: Supervisor Bevan Dufty insists he hates negative politics and won’t attack other candidates. And yet, the following appeared in Matier and Ross on Aug. 20:
“The campaign is barely under way, and already the mud balls are being lobbed. In this case, it’s a 1995 news clip from the Chicago Tribune describing how [Dufty opponent Alix] Rosenthal, then a 22-year-old senior at Northwestern University, abruptly resigned as student body president rather than face an impeachment hearing over a campaign finance scandal.
“Her sin: Exceeding the campaign spending limit by $26.06.”
Well, somebody dredged that up and leaked it to the press. Anyone you know, Bevan? SFBG
A memorial service for Bierman is set for Sept. 3 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Delancey Street Foundation, 600 Embarcadero, San Francisco.
There’s an intriguing confluence of anniversaries coming up that together offer an opportunity for societal awakening.
This week I’ll be among thousands of Bay Area residents leaving for Burning Man and the 20th birthday of the most significant countercultural event of our times. Five years ago, right after my first Burning Man, the Sept. 11 attacks ushered in radical changes to US foreign policy and political dialogue. And last year during the festival, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, another event of international significance, which New Orleans writer Jason Berry explores in this week’s cover story commissioned by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.
Burning Man, Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina — aside from the timing of their 20th, 5th, and 1st anniversaries, what’s the connection? Before I answer that, let me layer on a more personal anniversary: this summer marks my 15th year working as a reporter and editor for various California newspapers.
I got into the business mainly because I felt like the American people were being duped, at the time about Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, a war used by the first President Bush as a pretext for establishing permanent US military bases in the oil-rich Middle East.
American bases in Saudi Arabia caused Osama bin Laden to threaten a terrorist war against the United States unless we withdrew — a threat that we seemed to ignore while he carried through with a series of attacks that culminated in Sept. 11. Rather than reevaluating our relationships with oil and the Islamic world, this Bush administration upped the ante: invading and occupying two more Islamic nations, adopting energy policies that increased our oil dependence, and withdrawing the United States from international accords on global climate change and human rights.
Then Hurricane Katrina hit, opening up a second front of attack on the choices this country is making. I was already at Burning Man, in an isolated bubble of ignorant bliss that was eventually popped by the news. As we left the playa, burners gave significant money, supplies, and people to the relief effort. An eight-month cleanup and rebuilding encampment turned into a movement dubbed Burners Without Borders, which is still developing ambitious goals for good works and greening the event.
I believe Burning Man will be using its 20th birthday as a transition point. We’ve built our community and allowed it to mature, and now we’re talking about where we go from here. Most of those discussions are happening right here in San Francisco, where Burning Man was born and is headquartered. There is tremendous will to use our creation as a force for good.
Progressives will use the anniversaries of Sept. 11 and Katrina to urge our government to reevaluate its relationships with oil, other countries, and its own cities and poor people. Unfortunately, San Francisco isn’t where those decisions will be made.
But if there is a will to change this country’s direction, what better place to launch that movement than here? And what better army than Burning Man’s attendees, expected to number more than 35,000 — people known for their resourceful ability to build a city from scratch, clean it up, and leave no trace?
We’ll be back in a couple weeks, ready for what’s next. SFBG
There was no better place than the Castro Theatre to watch Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which kicked off the 70mm Series on Aug. 11. (Future delights in store: South Pacific and Tron!) The timing wasn’t bad either: among the film’s many viscerally unsettling images (see: bludgeoned animals; HAL’s omnipresent glowing red eye; an astronaut jerkily struggling for oxygen, then floating off into deep space), one in particular for me managed to mainline a vein of depression and fear concerning where world events — and US foreign policy — are taking us, ceasefire notwithstanding. That would be the moment (melodramatic, yes, but provoking dead silence in the theater) when ape-man moves beyond territorial posturing and realizes that he has the technology to bring home dinner and brutally slaughter his neighbors.
On a less dismal note, go check out our blogs — www.sfbg.com has spawned a whopping five of them in the wake of our Web site redesign, and we’re quite enjoying our adventures in 21st-century-style online media. We’re a little creeped out to find ourselves in the company of late bloomer Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, we learned at press time, just posted his first entry on his own blog (a punishing 2,000-plus words in English). But we feel good about the fact that we got the jump on the Iranian president by at least a month or so.
Ahmadinejad’s first post is packed with autobiographical tidbits and railings against, yes, US foreign policy — much like our own content! But we’ve also got Kimberly Chun’s report and pics from the Bleeding Edge Festival on our music blog, Noise. In Pixel Vision you’ll find Cheryl Eddy’s musings on the fact that, per court order, Ted Kaczynski’s copy of The Elements of Style will soon be on the auction block — plus the extended mix of Eddy’s interview with Snakes on a Plane snake handler Jules Sylvester. And in the Bruce Blog, you’ll learn what happens when a national glossy business mag has the unmitigated temerity to refer to Guardian headquarters as “grungy” in the lead paragraph of its cover story. Read all about it in “Why People Get Mad at the Media,” parts one through six. SFBG
Bad social failures eventually come back to haunt you. That’s what’s happening in the California prison system, where decades of lock-’em-up legislation, stupid drug laws, and governors who are terrified of the political consequences of paroling inmates have filled the jails with aging prisoners who require extensive medical care. Tens of thousands of people will die in state prisons in the next few years, not of murder or abuse but because they’re serving life sentences — and it’s going to cost a fortune to take care of them in their declining years. The state may have to set up special geriatric cell blocks and hospital wards for inmates who did something pretty bad a long, long time ago and never got another chance at life.
And so it is, apparently, with San Francisco’s homeless population.
According to a new study by the University of California, San Francisco, the median age of the city’s homeless people has gone from 37 in 1990 to about 50 today. The thousands of people who live on the streets are getting older and older — and their health is failing. Many of them, it seems, have been there at least off and on since the 1980s, when the federal government under Ronald Reagan stopped spending money to help cities provide low-cost housing.
If the study, reported in the Chronicle on Aug. 4, is accurate, there are some important policy conclusions that we need to be looking at. For starters, it suggests that many of the homeless people in San Francisco are not arriving here because of friendly programs and attitudes; we are not a “magnet” for the homeless. In fact, the people living on the streets are … San Franciscans. Some have been living here as long as I have. They are part of our community, part of our city. They just don’t have a roof over their heads or a place to go and shut out the world.
Then there’s the fact that harsh cutbacks in spending on low-income populations only create more, and more intractable, problems. The aging homeless are going to need a lot more expensive medical care over the next few years, and the only way they’re going to get it is at taxpayer expense. By the time the baby boomer generation of homeless people has died, I bet San Francisco will have spent so much money on caring for them in their later years that it would have been cheaper to just give them all a decent welfare payment, health insurance, and a decent place to live.
Building housing is expensive. Building so-called supportive housing — residential units with social services on-site — is more expensive. Treating people in hospitals who are literally dying of homelessness is even more expensive than that.
You want to be a cold-eyed conservative? The cheapest solution is to radically raise the general assistance payment to the point where homeless people can afford an apartment. That also happens to be the most humane.
Once upon a time, what a lot of homeless people needed was cash, not care. Cash, not care. Now they need care — and the people who elected Gavin Newsom and who complain about the homeless are going to be paying for that care. SFBG
I had lunch with a friend near South Park the other day, and we got to chatting about the condo boom in the area — building after building after ugly high rise after boxy dorm. This stuff doesn’t look like luxury housing; it looks like modern urban junk.
Anyway, my friend is a smart, thoughtful person, and her first instinct was to say that more downtown housing is a good thing. Me, I get a headache whenever I try to be thoughtful about San Francisco housing policy these days, so I wasn’t thoughtful at all. I hate it all, I told her.
She asked why and I answered honestly. “There are already too many goddamn rich people in this city,” I said. “What we need is more poor people.”
Actually, that’s wrong: what we need are more middle-class people.
My friend is one of the few people in the world who make a decent living as a freelance writer. But she can’t buy a house here. If she didn’t have a rent-controlled apartment where she’s lived for about 20 years now, she couldn’t afford to live in San Francisco at all.
This is nothing new. What’s interesting is that it’s getting (some) national attention. The New York Times weighed in July 23 with an article citing San Francisco as an example of how US cities are becoming places for the rich and the poor with nobody in between. Again, no big news — but the Times had a twist on it. The writer, Janny Scott, asked: is that such a bad thing?
After all, cities like San Francisco are thriving. Property values are soaring. Everyone wants to live here. Some economists, Scott wrote, now refer to places like San Francisco, New York, and Boston as “superstar cities.”
From a strictly economic point of view, some of Scott’s sources argued that there’s nothing wrong with rich people driving the middle class out of cities. “There’s a whole lot of America that does a very good job of taking care of the middle class,” Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser insisted.
Now here’s the quote I love:
“But sociologists and many economists believe there can be non-economic consequences for cities that lose a lot of middle-income residents.”
Here’s the point: if you measure everything the way a lot of economists (and a lot of San Francisco business leaders) do, the city’s cooking along just fine. People who want to live here will pay the price; the free market will eventually make it all work out.
And maybe so — after a while San Francisco will be such a hellhole of a precious bedroom community for Silicon Valley workers and a faux city for tourists that nobody like me or my friends will want to be here anymore. The free market will do its job — by ruining one of the world’s great cities. By destroying a community.
And what I want to leave you with is this: the only way to stop that from happening — the only way — is with active, strong public-sector (yes, that’s government) intervention. Some people (developers, speculators, and landlords) will have to make less money so the rest of us can keep San Francisco alive. The supervisors are doing that on many levels; the mayor still doesn’t seem to get it.
But we’re running out of time. SFBG
I started down Valencia Street around 8:30 last Thursday morning, trying to get to Mission and Embarcadero for a 9 a.m. radio show, and I caught up with two other bicyclists at a red light around 23rd Street. None of us said anything, but we rode more or less together for a couple more blocks, then picked up a few more riders here and a few more there, and by the time we hit Market Street, there were probably 15 of us, riding along in some sort of impromptu Critical Mass–style convoy. We (carefully) ran lights together, rode around cars together, and somehow, I think, psychically watched each other’s backs. I was on Market Street during rush hour, and I actually felt almost safe.
It was a San Francisco moment, one of those instances of accidental community that make you remember why this is the world’s best city. And while the greedheads keep trying to ruin it, we can still dream of making it better.
That’s what this Best of the Bay issue is dedicated to: a celebration of all that is wonderful in San Francisco and the Bay Area — and a vision of what it could be, maybe even might be, if we can wrest control of the future from the people who brought us the high-rise boom, the war against fun, dot-com development, Gavin Newsom, and the $2,000 studio apartment.
It could be, it can be, and sometimes it is — the city of the future. SFBG
It’s your Guardian. That’s the message we posted on the cover today, and I mean it: The new sfbg.com website is designed to be fully interactive. You can post your comments on every article, every review, every editorial. You can join in on five new blogs. In a few weeks, we’ll have a reader’s blog, just for you.
Newspaper publishing should never be a one-way communication. For more than 20 years, I’ve been hearing from readers (yeah, I answer my own phone), and your ideas and suggestions (and complaints) are what make this paper great.
And now you can share your thoughts with all the other readers, too. Argue, fight, tell me I’m full of shit, point out great San Francisco ideas that ought to be in the mix … It’s easy. Registration takes about 30 seconds. And keep coming back – there’s going to be more, much more, rolling out in the next few weeks.
The first thing I did when I learned that private housing developers in San Francisco were demanding 28 percent profit levels (see page 5) was to call my brother Mike, who runs a small business building houses in New York. He almost dropped the phone.
“Let me get this straight,” he said. “These guys say they need 28 percent profit?” That’s the minimum, I told him.
“Shit, sign me up,” he laughed. “I’ll take the whole crew and we’ll be on the next plane.”
Mike is thrilled when he walks away with 10 percent profit on a job. So is everyone he knows. So are most small businesses (and quite a few large ones). The only ones who can get away with demanding that sort of return are oil companies, daily newspaper publishers, and, it appears, San Francisco real estate developers.
This isn’t really shocking news: We’ve known for a long time that developers make a killing in an inflated housing market. Compared to the boom years of the 1980s, when the office market was running rampant and out of control, the 28 percent margins aren’t that outrageous – high-rise office developers made even more.
But there’s a bottom line for the city: These folks aren’t just getting rich; they’re getting really rich – purely off a market that exists simply because of the appeal of San Francisco. They owe it to the city to give more than a pittance of that back.
Now this: Just about every small-business owner in San Francisco is sitting down with a spreadsheet and trying to figure out how much Sup. Tom Ammiano’s health care legislation is going to cost. A lot of them seem to be nervous – in part because of the fearmongering campaign put out by the Chamber of Commerce and the Committee on Jobs.
But when you actually look at what the law says, it’s not that scary. I’ve gone over the final language, and here are some key points:
1. The requirement that employers pay for health care doesn’t affect anyone with fewer than 20 employees, which is most of the small businesses in town.
2. Nobody’s going to have to pay anything until July 2007, and companies with between 20 and 50 employees aren’t going to have to pay anything until April 2008.
3. There’s a 90-day waiting period before anyone has to pay for a new employee.
4. Nobody will have to pay for employees who either have health insurance already (from a spouse, say) or who voluntarily decline health insurance.
5. Employers will pay based on how many hours an employee works, so the price for a part-timer will be comparatively small.
6. If you have more than 20 employees and don’t currently provide health insurance for all of them (or the amount you pay for that insurance is low), you’ll have to ante up, either by buying insurance in the private market or paying into the city plan. For companies with 20 to 99 employees, the city plan will run about $1.12 an hour next year for anyone who works more than 12 hours a week. Pencil it out; it may not kill you.
It’s absolutely an imperfect system. Employer-based health insurance is the wrong model. But for now it’s all we have – and this is a way to offer at least basic primary health care to everyone in the city. It’s worth the price. SFBG
Wow: A little more drunkenness and a bit of public nudity, and San Francisco could have had a real world-class soccer party Sunday. As it was, things were pretty darn festive: I was too busy chasing the kids around and watching the game to get a good count, but I bet there were 15,000 people at Dolores Park, more than I’ve seen in one place in the Mission for anything short of a big antiwar rally. The sun was shining, the mood was upbeat, people waved French and Italian flags around and cheered when either side scored a goal… what a great event.
And it only happened because a German-born former teacher named Jens-Peter Jungclaussen, who is traveling around in a bus trying to bring the world to local kids, decided to get the permits, line up a big-screen TV and a huge forklift, and pull it off.
And as I stood there and marveled at how one motivated person could create a massive civic event, I had to wonder: Why can’t the Recreation and Park Department do stuff like this?
How hard would it have been for the city to rent the TV screen (or better, three or four screens; there were so many people the ones in the back could barely see), put out the word (Jungclaussen did, as far as I can tell, no advertising — the whole thing was by e-mail and word of mouth), and maybe even do this in half a dozen places around town?
It’s funny, when you think of it: So much of the fun stuff that happens in San Francisco is done by private groups. The street fairs, the festivals, the concerts… the city does almost none of this. Even the Fourth of July fireworks are run by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Rec-Park spends a lot of time pissing people off, making dumb rules about permits that make even the private events harder to finance. It’s a nest of bureaucrats without any vision.
This ought to be a wake-up call: There are all sorts of things that can bring people together. There are all sorts of ways to spend the public’s money helping the public have fun (and along the way, reminding people why we pay taxes).
You want to cough up extra money every year to pay someone to tell you that you can’t drink beer in North Beach? I don’t either — but a few events like Sunday’s impromptu festival in Dolores Park, and one of the most loathed agencies at City Hall could become one of the most loved.
Think about it, folks.
Now this: I think just about every Guardian reader in the world has noticed that we’ve had some serious Web problems in the past few weeks. We got hit with something — maybe an attack, we’re still not sure — on Election Day, and whatever it was pretty much fried sfbg.com, and we’ve been limping along ever since.
But we’re back now and way better with a bunch of big changes that we’d been planning anyway. Sfbg.com now has a new design, a (much, much) faster user interface — and several new blogs that will be updated daily and full of everything you need to know about politics, arts, culture, and the unconventional wisdom of San Francisco.
It’s still a work in progress, but it’s going to be a lot easier to tell us what you think. SFBG
Just about everybody in the “respectable” news media is going to call Sup. Chris Daly’s latest charter amendment a crackpot idea, so I might as well join the crackpots right now. I think it’s wonderful.
Daly wants to require the mayor of San Francisco to appear once a month at a Board of Supervisors meeting and answer questions. That’s it — no decisions get made, no policies change. The mayor just has to stand up in public, in front of the district-elected legislators, and explain himself.
It’s a longstanding tradition in England, where the prime minister has to show up at Parliament for “question time.” It makes for outstanding politics and great TV. It’s often pretty rough: The PM gets interrogated by the opposition and fires back. When the smoke clears, the public knows a little more about the government’s policies, and the nation’s chief executive is a little more accountable.
Imagine if G.W. Bush, who doesn’t like press conferences, embodies the imperial presidency, and hates having to answer in public to anything, had to endure question time before the House of Representatives. Imagine Maxine Waters or Barbara Lee or John Murtha asking him about the war. (For that matter, imagine Bill Clinton avoiding impeachment by hashing the questions out in front of a Republican Congress long before it ever got to that.)
There’s a lot to like about parliamentary democracies, and one of the best things is the relatively weak executive branch. Question time in England helps keep the prime minister under control.
And of course in San Francisco mayors are pretty powerful and tend to be pretty aloof. Willie Brown just ignored critics. Gavin Newsom talks to the press but doesn’t get into active debates that much. So it wouldn’t hurt the mayor — any mayor — to have to spend an hour a month in a public session responding to the supervisors’ questions; it wouldn’t hurt the city either. It would do wonders for fighting the inclination toward secrecy in the executive branch. And you know you’d want to watch.
Yeah, Chris Daly is not a fan of Gavin Newsom, and the political consultants working for the mayor will have all sorts of reasons to call this a personal attack and an assault on separation of powers (if not on the very nature of American democracy). But come on — if the prime minister of England can find time to handle this while leading one of the world’s great powers, the mayor of San Francisco can fit it into his tight schedule.
Onward: The deal that gives Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group control over most of the Bay Area dailies is now complete — and already there’s word that Singleton and the Hearst Corp., which owns the ostensibly competing San Francisco Chronicle, will be doing a joint web venture together.
From the June 29 Contra Costa Times:
“MediaNews executives revealed the company is discussing with Hearst Corp. a joint venture to begin a new Web site involving the Bay Area online products of the Times and Mercury News; of the MediaNews publications in the Bay Area; and of the Hearst-owned Chronicle.”
Monopoly marches on.
Funny: I didn’t see anything about this in the Chron. SFBG
The local daily newspapers haven’t paid much attention to it, but there’s a ferocious fuss going on in the blog world over political power and journalistic ethics, and it’s all swirling around a 34-year-old who runs the world’s most popular political blog out of his home in Berkeley.
It’s a fascinating story because of what it says about the revolution that’s taking place in media and politics today.
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga runs the blog DailyKos, which started off as just another liberal political blog by a liberal political activist (who used to be a political consultant and worked at one point for Howard Dean). But in the past three years it’s become phenomenally successful: DailyKos.com gets about a half million page views a day, which puts it in the league not with most of the other blogs but with major mainstream news operations. Moulitsas has no staff — no reporters, no editors, no reviewers, no nothing. His readers — or, more accurately, the members of the huge and growing DailyKos community of 92,000 registered users — provide almost all of the content. They write their own personal blogs called diaries, they comment on each other’s stuff, they promote (and dis) candidates, and they have formed the best known place in the country for the Dean wing of the Democratic Party to meet and confer.
The politicians have noticed, big time: Leading Democrats (like Rep. Nancy Pelosi) post on the site. A couple of months ago, a former president (Jimmy Carter) stopped by to blog. When the Kossacks organized an annual convention this summer, Sen. Harry Reid and presidential hopeful Mark Warner showed up.
So now DailyKos is in the big leagues — and not surprisingly, critics are starting to snipe.
The latest: Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong, who runs MyDD.com, have written a book together, and are longtime pals. (Moulitsas calls Armstrong his “blogfather.”) Armstrong is an active political consultant, and the candidates he works for sometimes get nice mentions on DailyKos. There’s been a lot of mumbling about how there might be some kind of sordid conspiracy here (hire Armstrong, get plugged on DailyKos), and it all became louder when the New Republic got word that Armstrong had been accused of illegally hyping stocks on the Web several years ago — and that Moulitsas had sent an e-mail around to a private mailing list urging other bloggers to keep it quiet.
The right-wingers (including David Brooks of the New York Times) have had a field day with this, acting as if they’ve finally unmasked the Great Left-Wing Conspiracy. Actually, the fact that it all came out in the open pretty quickly shows what a lousy secret cabal the bloggers make. Mostly, Moulitsas’s e-mail was just pretty stupid. But the whole episode raises the question: At what point do bloggers have a responsibility to be accountable, to have ethics and disclosure standards the way “mainstream” journalists are supposed to?
I e-mailed Moulitsas about it, and he’s pretty clear: “People like you keep trying to pound a round peg into a square hole,” he said. “This is citizen media. It is what it is … Old media might want the media landscape to resemble their old world, but it doesn’t, not anymore.”
Which is absolutely true. And I love DailyKos. And the blog explosion is perhaps the most democratic thing that’s happened to media in the history of civilization.
But at some point, citizen journalism isn’t enough — you need reporters and editors and a real staff to give the public real information about the world. And when that happens in the blog world (and it will soon) a lot of the rules are going to change. SFBG
I saw the (somewhat) glorious past and the rather dubious future of the Democratic Party last week in Little Rock, Ark. Not the sort of place you’d expect to see progressive politics clash with hard reality, but there we were: a few hundred members of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies — many of us charter members of the left wing of the party — listening to a pair of native-son Dems, Gen. Wesley Clark and former president Bill Clinton, lecturing on the state of the nation and the future of the White House.
Clark, who didn’t even bother to deny that he’s seriously considering running for president (“I haven’t decided not to run”), decried the loss of national purpose in what sounded an awful lot like a stump speech. The retired military man seemed to long for the days of the cold war, when Americans were Americans and commies were commies, and we all knew who the enemy was. In those days, he said, Democrats and Republicans joined together in common cause to defeat the red menace. (Oh, there were differences: Republicans wanted to bomb first and ask questions later, and Democrats wanted to try to talk and make nice before summoning the Marines. But that was just the sort of difference you see between men and women, he suggested, implying in a really weird way that all cold war Democrats were actually female.) But overall, we were, well, united.
Clinton, who spoke and took questions for an amazing two hours or so (and charged us not a nickel), picked up the unity theme and encouraged the press to understand the nuances between hard-line partisan positions. He was critical of Bush’s foreign policy (“You can’t kill, jail, or occupy all your enemies) and talked Jimmy Carter–like of what good Americans could do for the world, but said he liked Bush personally (“He’s a man of great will and … intuitive intelligence”).
When I asked him about same-sex marriage, he ducked beautifully, saying it should be left to the states — but made a point of disagreeing with my premise, which is that some issues aren’t nuanced at all. Some things are just right and wrong.
And in the end, he had a message for the Democratic left: Get with the program. “I am,” he said, “about winning.”
I dunno. Maybe sometimes I’m not. SFBG
I sat in the second row at McKinley Elementary School’s “junior Olympics” last week, right behind Superintendent Gwen Chan, who is doing a pretty good job so far, and district spokesperson Lorna Ho, who remains the most annoying public relations person I’ve ever had to deal with, and as I watched the kids do this amazing opening ceremony on the playground, I realized how much I love San Francisco public schools.
I don’t always love the school board, and I don’t always love the flacks at headquarters, and I really, really didn’t love the last superintendent, but on some level, that doesn’t really matter. On the ground — in the places where teaching actually happens, in the classrooms, in the auditorium, on the playground — my public school is amazing.
There’s nowhere near enough money. It’s not an easy, upper-middle-class student population. But the principal, Bonnie Coffey-Smith, is fantastic, the teachers are all full of energy, and the students — all of the students — are learning.
I could have spent tens of thousands of dollars a year on a private school, and I don’t think my son, Michael, could possibly have gotten a better educational experience than the one he’s getting now.
Onward: It’s been 25 years, exactly, since the first AIDS cases were documented, and 10 years, more or less, since Paul O’Connell died.
Paulo was my best friend. We met in college, smoked a lot of pot, and dreamed about world revolution. After we both (narrowly) emerged with our diplomas, we drove out west, escaping a nasty law enforcement problem in upstate New York, losing all of our worldly possessions to burglars in Chicago, scrounging some blankets from an old motel so we wouldn’t freeze when we slept on the ground in the Rockies, and finally running out of gas and money in San Francisco. We stayed for a while, then hit the road again and wound up in an apartment in East Hartford, Conn.; in a commune (of sorts) in the New England woods; in a house in Croton, NY; and on a buffalo ranch in Oklahoma before we eventually came home, to a slum on Hayes Street with no shower and no doors.
And always, everywhere, Paulo loved life.
We lived together for three years or so, all told, until I moved in with my girlfriend and Paulo went to work for Ralph Nader in DC. I saw him a few times a year, usually when the Grateful Dead were in town. It was about 1987 when he told me he was gay, which was a big whatever — except that Paulo was never good about safety, and that was a dangerous time. He loved to party, hated condoms because they never seemed to fit right, and figured if he got an AIDS test every couple of months, he’d be OK.
Then one of the tests came back positive.
Paulo fought bravely: He never once complained, never slowed down, and refused to give up the pursuit of happiness. But that was before the drug cocktails, when there wasn’t any truly effective treatment. In the end, the plague was stronger than Paulo. I still miss him, every damn day.
And here’s the thing: There are 80,000 stories like that one, just in San Francisco alone.
As long as the rest of us live, that’s something we should never forget. SFBG
The San Francisco Board of Education agreed this month to spend a little north of $1.3 million fixing up some dilapidated bungalows at Rooftop Elementary, which happens to be one of the most popular schools in the district. This sounds like a fine idea. The school has too many kids to fit in the classrooms, and the outdoor bungalows, which handle the overflow, are in pretty bad shape. The school district’s facilities officer, an architect, says the students are in no immediate danger, but seriously: How can anyone be against repairing rotten old school buildings?
Well, I’m against it.
Here’s the thing: The board just shut down a bunch of schools, many of them serving primarily nonwhite populations, to save a few million bucks. The rationale: The district is short of money, and those schools were underenrolled — there were too many empty spaces in the classrooms. So they could be closed and the kids sent to other schools. Closing John Swett in the Western Addition, for example, infuriated a large African American community, but saved around $650,000.
Now think about this slowly for a moment, and see if it makes any sense to you: We’ve got a school that has too many kids, so they’re crammed outside in old bungalows. And we’ve got a school that has empty classrooms, so we’re going to shut it down. Instead of trying to move some of the kids from Rooftop to Swett — which costs nothing — we’re saving $650,000 by closing Swett, then spending twice as much as we saved rebuilding the Rooftop bungalows.
Isn’t there something really screwy here?
Well, of course, there’s an explanation: Rooftop has a long waiting list, and all the upper-middle-class white people want to send their kids there. I understand — it’s got a great program, great teachers, and a parent community that raises a ton of money every year for curriculum enrichment.
And I know I’m not as smart as all the people with advanced education degrees at school district headquarters. But I have to wonder: Why can’t we take what’s good about Rooftop — a couple of the teachers, the overall program approach, maybe even (gasp) some of that fundraising cash — and, you know, export the revolution? Why not make Swett sort of a Rooftop Annex? Save the money, help the kids, don’t close anything — everybody’s a winner.
Sarah Lipson, one of two school board members who opposed the bungalow rebuild (Mark Sanchez was the other) told me the whole deal was crazy. "How can we talk about long-range planning and then do this?" she asked.
The district wouldn’t have to kick anyone out of Rooftop this year — the bungalows aren’t going to fall off the hillside, and they’ll hold up another 12 months. There’s supposed to be a real community-based process to evaluate facilities and school closures anyway; why not make this part of it?
Do I really have to answer that question?
Now this: The attack ads and scare tactics of this spring’s campaign are even worse than usual. The "shocking secret" flyer, with the older woman with a photoshopped black eye, attempting to convince people to vote for Proposition D, ranks number one on the sleaze list. The hit on Mike Nevin for a 30-year-old voter fraud charge is truly special, as is Nevin’s hit on Leland Yee, which purports to show Yee lifting weights with the governor.
Aren’t there any real issues in these races? SFBG
Look: The Transbay Terminal project is all fucked up, about as bad as anything in city government could be, and a lot of people are at fault.
Supervisor Chris Daly isn’t one of them.
I say this because the No on Proposition C campaign has become little more than a personal attack on Daly, who authored the measure that would change the makeup of the Transbay Terminal authority. I’m not voting for Prop. C — I don’t think it’s going to solve the problem — but I do think Daly makes a very good case that change is needed, and I think he’s making a good faith effort to fix it. I mean, at least he’s doing something.
So why are there flyers and posters all around town attacking Daly and saying he is trying to “hold up” the Transbay Terminal project? Mark Mosher, who is running the No on D campaign, argues that Daly “should be held accountable” for his proposal, but that’s horseshit. The real reason, Mosher agrees, is that attacking Chris Daly wins votes in many parts of town.
It’s a sleazy way to run a campaign, and the mayor — who is really behind all of this nonsense — needs to put an end to it, now.
Onward: much, much ado at the Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods meeting May 16. The agenda for a group that has too often been under the sway of Joe O’Donoughue included a proposal to rescind the coalition’s endorsement of Prop. D, the badly flawed Laguna Honda measure.
Joe and his ally, former CSFN president Barbara Meskunas, had pushed for (and won) an early endorsement of the measure, which would use zoning rules to ban certain types of patients from the hospital. Somehow, though, the Yes on D presentation wasn’t entirely complete: Most CSFN members who initially voted to back the plan didn’t realize that it had potentially much more sweeping impacts, and could legalize private development on a lot of other city property.
As news about what Prop. D really meant began to get out, some coalition members demanded a new vote — and after a month’s parliamentary delay, they got one.
The debate, I’m told, was lively: At one point, Tony Hall, whom the mayor appointed to head the Treasure Island Development Authority, accused Debra Walker, a longtime progressive, of being a "stooge for the mayor." Ultimately, though, the vote to rescind the endorsement won, 23–8, with Hall, Meskunas, and Newsom-appointed planning commissioner Michael Antonini in the minority.
Shortly afterward, the members voted on new officers, and a slate of candidates led by Meskunas was roundly defeated. At which point Meskunas stormed out of the room, later resigning from the organization.
"This was a battle for the soul of the coalition," Tony Kelly of the Potrero Boosters told me. "It’s been brewing for a while."
Yeah, it’s just one more San Francisco political group and one more internal battle, but it might mean a lot more. First of all, it shows that Hall and Antonini — both, remember, Newsom appointees — are coming on strong against the mayor, fueling the theory I keep hearing that Hall will challenge Newsom from the right in 2007 (and try to get his friend Matt Gonzalez, who also supports Prop. D, to mount a challenge from the left).
Gonzalez told me he hadn’t heard anything about that plan yet (and he found it quite odd), but (of course) he’s not ruling out another mayoral campaign. SFBG
I was sitting peacefully at home, watching the final episode of The West Wing, which my partner describes as "liberal porn," when Steve Westly drew first blood in the governor’s race.
We all knew there’d be some negative ads before this was over, and frankly, all the hand-wringing about the evil of negative campaigning has never really appealed to me: Politicians have been launching vicious, often slanderous attacks on their opponents since the dawn of democracy. But this one made me furious.
The simple story is that Westly — borrowing a chapter from the Book of Rove — is assailing Phil Angelides for wanting to tax the rich. And he’s doing it in the most misleading, unprincipled, and utterly disgraceful way.
The ad features what seems like a crushing list of new taxes that Angelides wants to impose — $10 billion worth, Westly’s hit squad claims. Then it winds up with a smarmy tagline: "With high gas prices, housing and health care costs, can working families afford Phil Angelides’s tax plan?"
Of course, Westly had pledged some time ago not to be the first candidate to attack the other by name, but what the hell: The election’s coming up, the race seems to be narrowing, and this guy will do whatever’s necessary to win.
But more than that, with this ad Westly is promoting the exact mentality that has damaged public education, health care, environmental protection, infrastructure needs, and so much else of what used to be the California dream. Republicans love to hit Democrats on taxes, and we’ll see plenty of that in the fall, no matter who’s the nominee. And for Westly to start the "no new taxes" cry just leaves the Democrats politically crippled.
For the record, Angelides is right: The state needs more tax revenue. And under his proposal, most of it would come not from "working families" who are worried about their gas bills but from people like, well, Steve Westly and Phil Angelides — millionaires. His proposed income tax increase only affects households with more than $500,000 in income. Sorry: You’re in that range, you can afford it.
So Mr. Westly: Stop with the antitax lies. This shit makes me sick.
On to the good news.
I get the feeling, from over here in San Francisco, that there’s a real change afoot in East Bay politics. For the past few years, a not-so-loose cadre made up of state senator Don Perata, Mayor Jerry Brown, and Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente has been consolidating power in Oakland, calling the political shots and giving developers a blank check. Two of the three have real, ahem, ethical issues, and one’s itching to leave town for Sacramento, but so far, nobody’s been able to truly challenge them.
Until Ron Dellums.
Now, I know that Dellums has been out of Oakland for years, that he’s a DC lobbyist, and I’ve heard the rap that he’s long on rhetoric and short on urban policy ideas. But we met him last week, and I can tell you that, at 71, he’s still one of the most energetic and inspirational speakers around, and if he’s elected mayor, he will, by force of personality and national stature, instantly become a center of power that’s distinct from (and will often be in opposition to) the Perata–<\d>De La Fuente bloc. SFBG