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.