Lee should stop the recycling eviction

Pub date January 18, 2011

EDITORIAL Mayor Ed Lee needs to demonstrate, as we noted last week, that he’s making a clean break from the politics and policies of the Newsom administration — and there are things he can do immediately to reassure San Franciscans that he’s going to offer more than another 11 months of a failed administration.

He can start by calling off the eviction of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Recycling Center.

The move by Newsom to evict the recycling center, on the edge of Golden Gate Park, was part of his administration’s war on the poor. It made no sense from a financial or environmental perspective. The center, which pays rent to the city, would be replaced by a community garden, which would pay nothing. The center creates green jobs that pay a living wage; all the workers would be laid off under Newsom’s plan. The center also operates a native plant nursery and provides a drop-off recycling site for local businesses.

A community garden makes only limited sense in a shady area that gets fog most of the year.

The only reason Newsom was determined to get rid of the place is that low-income people who collect bottles and cans around the city (an environmentally positive activity, by the way) come by the center to drop them off and pick up a little cash. Some of the wealthier residents of the Haight don’t like poor people wandering through their neighborhood. It’s class warfare, declared by the Newsom administration — and Lee, who got his start as a poverty lawyer, doesn’t have to tolerate it.

Lee should direct the Recreation and Parks Department to cease the eviction proceedings and negotiate a long-term lease for the Frederick Street site.

It seems like a small item in the long list of issues the new mayor will have to deal with — but the HANC recycling center has strong symbolic importance. Ending the eviction and allowing the center to stay would be a sign that Lee intends to be a mayor who is willing to work with the progressives and that he’s not going to try to solve all the city’s problems by blaming, harassing, and criminalizing people who are barely surviving in San Francisco.

The new mayor could take another simple step toward broad credibility by opening up his office — to the public and the press. Under Newsom, Room 200 was an unfriendly place to outsiders, and often the news media were treated as enemies. Lee should start holding regular press conferences — not just stage-managed events designed to showcase one issue, but broad-ranging, open sessions where reporters can ask questions about anything his administration is doing. And he ought to direct his press office to make compliance with the Sunshine Ordinance a priority.

For starters, he could release whatever proposed budget cuts Newsom left behind. It’s hard to believe the former mayor just turned them over to Lee without a list of things that were on the chopping block. The sooner the public sees where the previous administration was going, the sooner we can all determine what, if anything, Lee will do differently.