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Pub date May 2, 2006
WriterTim Redmond


Editor’s Note

The Healthy Saturdays folks were out leafleting in Golden Gate Park this weekend, on a stunningly beautiful Sunday, along with thousands of other people enjoying the car-free sunshine. The message on the handouts: Call the mayor (554-7111); the supervisors have approved a plan to at least try extending the car ban to Saturday, and now it’s in the mayor’s court.

Which will be interesting, as Steven T. Jones reports on page 19, because Gavin Newsom thinks of himself as an environmentalist who is pro-bicycle and propublic transportation but the people who were a big part of his political base from day one are upper-crust de Young Museum types who, for their own selfish reasons, don’t want the roads in the park closed.

De Young Museum baroness Dede Wilsey and Ken Garcia, the San Francisco Examiner‘s resident crank, are the chief architects of the argument that the Saturday road closure is a bad idea. They’re pushing this God-and-the-flag line "let the voters decide" and claiming that since a similar plan lost at the ballot once, only a public referendum would be adequate authority for a rather simple land-use decision. Put it to the voters, they say; that’s fair, right?

Well, I’m not here to dis American democracy or anything, but there’s a little secret I want to share: Most elections aren’t fair. Anytime the size of the electorate is larger than about 40,000 voters (a typical San Francisco supervisorial district), you can’t effectively communicate your message without a big chunk of money and the larger the jurisdiction, the more money it takes.

Consider California.

There are three major candidates for governor, and all of them are wealthy people. But only two are truly, obscenely, stinking rich, with wealth in the $100 millionplus range, and they are, right now, the odds-on favorites to make the November final in large part because of their abilities to put personal wealth into the race. In other words, if you want to run for governor of California, being rich garden-variety rich isn’t nearly enough.

The same goes for San Francisco, on a different sort of scale. If citywide elections were fair, and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. didn’t have the ability to write a blank check every time an activist group tried to pass a public-power measure, San Francisco would have kicked out the private-power monopoly half a century ago. If citywide elections were fair, and Gavin Newsom didn’t have the ability to outspend Matt Gonzalez by a factor of about 6 to 1, the odds are at least even that Gonzalez would be mayor today.

That’s why Dede Wilsey and Ken Garcia, who both know better, are blowing some sort of smoke when they call for a "vote of the people."

But maybe we should call their bluff. How’s this for a deal:

The museum folks have plenty of money, so Wilsey can raise, say, $200,000. Then she can split it in half she gets $100,000, and the road-closure activists get $100,000. No outside, "independent" expenditures (they can control their side, and we can control ours), no tricks, no bullshit. Level playing field, fair election and let’s see who can walk more precincts and turn out more people on election day. That same model would work for all kinds of civic disputes.


PS: As an in-line skater with plenty of bruises to prove it, I have another suggestion: For even-more-healthy Saturdays, maybe they could resurface the roads. SFBG