Christina Olague

Fiscal solidarity


OPINION As Mayor Gavin Newsom prepares to skip town for the bleak limelight of Sacramento, he has left a resounding parting shot with massive budget cuts to those San Franciscans most in need of public aid: seniors, youth, homeless people, folks with mental illnesses, health clinic patients … the list goes on.

Newsom has balanced his final budget (and his campaign for lieutenant governor) largely on the backs of the poor, working-class, multiracial, and immigrant San Franciscans, as well as the nonprofits and city workers who deliver vital services.

The Newsom budget actually adds costs: by cutting services for the treatment and prevention of substance abuse and for youth crime prevention and supportive housing, for instance, it destabilizes lives and forces people right back into the treatment systems that are being cut — adding new human and fiscal costs.

"Every cut has a constituency," Newsom’s PR people say repeatedly. And that’s precisely what the mayor is counting on — that each "constituency" will fight on its own, for its own fiscal scraps. He’s wrong.

As members of a broad coalition of community and neighborhood-based organizations, labor unions, and civic leaders and residents across the city, we stand together in opposition to Newsom’s cuts-only budget and his attempts to divide "constituencies."

Fiscal solidarity means we recognize that an injury to one is an injury to all. "Constituencies" are in fact people whose lives cut across multiple budget line items. Cutting city parks is also a senior issue, as well as a youth issue. Closing mental health programs for the poor is not only an unnecessary moral outrage — it’s a public health and safety issue.

As members and supporters of unions and nonprofits, which are sometimes pit against each other in budget cut wars, we declare mutual support. The mayor’s cuts will mean drastically reduced services for those who need them most and deep staff cuts for city employees and nonprofit workers. We may work for different institutions under different budget line-items, but we’re fighting together as one community — one big "constituency."

Budget wars artificially divide communities that overlap and intermingle. Expressions of unity are put to the test by the budget "add-back" process that forces community groups to scuffle for scraps of cash — groups serving populations in critical need are set against each other, and whole communities are reduced to line-items.

We’re standing against fiscal wedge politics and demanding a real alternative. The budget must protect those most in need and be balanced by cutting first from the top instead of the bottom.

We are united for solutions — progressive tax measures on key wealth sectors that can and must pay their fair share to keep San Francisco the beautiful, thriving, diverse, and culturally rich city it is. We’re standing up for the city Newsom’s leaving, for the communities he’s cutting, and for progressive revenue — a tax to make downtown hotels pay their fair share, and a gross receipts tax on large businesses for starters.

Mayor Newsom: if you cut one of us, you cut us all.

This statement was signed by Christopher Cook, Budget Justice Coalition; Gabriel Haaland, SEIU 1021*; Gordon Mar, Jobs with Justice*; Eric Quezada, Dolores Street Community Services*; N’Tanya Lee, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth*; Jennifer Friedenbach, Coalition on Homelessness; Guiliana Milanese, Jobs with Justice*; Christina Olague, Senior Action Network*; Sheila Tully, California Faculty Association, SF State*; Chelsea Boilard, Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth*; Joseph Smooke, Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center*; Carl Finamore, delegate, SF Labor Council*

* names for ID purposes only

Newsom and his commissioners just love Candlestick/Shipyard report


 Text by Sarah Phelan, photos by Luke Thomas

Today, I’m dedicating Michael Franti’s  “Say hey, (I love you)” to the entire Redevelopment Commission and the four Planning Commissioners who approved the City’s final Environmental Impact Report plan for Lennar’s Candlestick/ shipyard development. I’m doing so, not because I love these commissioners, who are  all mayoral appointees, but because they all seem to love everything about the final report, despite ongoing concerns about building a bridge over an environmentally sensitive slough, taking park land for luxury condos and unresolved questions about the Navy’s cleanup of the shipyard.(Yes, the EIR doesn’t address the toxic cleanup, but does it make sense to approve it before the Navy has completed its cleanup assessment plan?)

I’m also dedicating Franti’s bubbly soul-lifting song to Planning Commissioners Christina Olague. Kathrin Moore and Hisashi Sugaya for refusing to rubberstamp the final EIR or the related CEQA findings. Thanks guys for having some moral backbone!

Mayor Gavin Newsom, presumably tweeting while leaving town again on the Lt. Governor campaign trail, hailed yesterday’s rubberstamping process as a critical milestone.
“This is a major milestone for our efforts to transform the shipyard from an environmental blight to a showcase of jobs, affordable housing, parks and green-technology investment for the Bayview and our entire City,” Newsom said in a press release. “The approvals of the EIR and Redevelopment Plan reflect the years of hard work, rigorous study and extensive community involvement invested in revitalizing our City’s Southeastern Waterfront…our progress today is a testament to their leadership and commitment to thoroughly cleaning up the Shipyard so we can forge ahead towards a new vision for Hunters Point.”

One of the key points to emerge from last night’s hearing is the bifurcated nature of the process, which yesterday let the city push the EIR certification through, before the Navy completes a related EIS (environmental impact statement) about the cleanup on the shipyard—including areas of land where Lennar hopes to develop homes if the 49ers leave.

Fog City Journal’s Luke Thomas told me today that during public comment, the Nation of Islam’s Minister Christopher Muhammad called the commissioners “paid prostitutes” and “political whores” and said there would be a “political earthquake” if the commissioners go forward with EIR. 

“However, I don’t think he understood that the EIR and the EIS (which deals with the toxic cleanup) are two separate documents,” Thomas said, accurately noting that the joint commission was only voting on the EIR yesterday.

(According to Thomas, the Minister also promised that coalition of activists that would dog Newsom up and down the State during his campaign for Lt. Governor to expose Newsom’s record, so expect more fireworks along the campaign trial this summer.)

Another key fact to emerge from yesterday’s hearing was the lack of public comment on the part of almost all the candidates running to replace D. 10 Sup. Sophie Maxwell, whose district includes this massive development. Only Kristine Enea, Tony Kelly and Espanola Jackson spoke on the record—with Enea in favor of the plan with amendments, and Kelly and Jackson opposed as things currently stand.

Now, you’d think that everyone running in this race would be eager to show D. 10 constituents (and beyond) that they were at the meeting, not only silently tracking, but also publicly expressing their opinions. And while it’s true that Marlene Tran and DeWitt Lacy filled in speaker cards, Chris Jackson showed up during the proceedings, and Lynette Sweet got ushered into the press box by Sup. Bevan Dufty, none of these D. 10 candidates got their thoughts in the public record. Now, no doubt Cedric Akbar, Bill Barnes, Isaac Bowers, James Calloway, Malia Cohen, Ed Donaldson, Marie Franklin, Rodney Hampton Jr., La Vaughan Moore, Geoffrea Morris, Steve Moss, Jacqueline Norman, Nina Pickerrell, Dwayne Robinson, Diane Wesley Smith, Eric Smith, (and the many others rumored to be running) had their reasons for not being there, and I’d be happy to hear all about it from all of them between now and the November election.

But it doesn’t instill confidence in candidates when they won’t say in public what they are only too willing to say off the record. So, kudos to Enea, Kelly and Jackson for taking that leap and refusing to act like politicians before they have even been elected.

“So much of it was shocking but not surprising,” Tony Kelly told me today, after he recovered from last night’s meeting which lasted until 2 a.m. ‘Everyone knew there would be a snappy 4-3 decision by the Planning Commission on the stuff that mattered. And in a way, I can see why the mayoral appointees on the Commission would decide that they would leave it to the elected officials on the Board to stop this plan. But there was zero excuse for the lameness of the Redevelopment Commission [who are all mayoral appointees]. Still, it showed what the Planning Commission [which today consists of four mayoral appointees, and three Board appointees] must have been like  before it was reformed [and still consisted solely of mayoral appointees].”

“It was heartbreaking to see the endless parade of Bayview Hunters Point residents saying, ‘I need a job,’ or ‘ I need to live in a new house,’ as they argued in favor of certifying the project’s final EIR, despite all the flaws,” Kelly acknowledged.

Still, as Kelly points out, the city could have pushed to acquire foreclosed housing in D. 10 so residents in substandard public housing could be relocated into decent units now, instead of having to stay at least another five years, or longer, in rat, cockroach and sewage inundated units, under Lennar’s plan.

Kelly also notes that the city could have used the Redevelopment Agency’s “massive power” to do stuff up and down Third St, where unemployment is especially visible.

“Having done planning elsewhere, this plan [for Candlestick and the shipyard] is like planning on Mars,” Kelly said. ‘This is a bigger badder version of 555 Washington.”

Last but not least, Kelly voiced concern that a couple of peaker plants will be built within Lennar’s project area.
.“There are going to be two combustion turbines generating steam heat, but not electricity within the project boundaries,” Kelly clarified. “That means they don’t have to register as a power plant, but they will be generating greenhouse gases. The only difference is they won’t be generating electricity.”

So, now the charade of approvals heads to the Port Commission, which has got some folks asking whether Port Commissioner Stephanie Shakofsky, another Newsom appointee should recuse herself , given that her non-profit is clearly such a fan of the project.



Sit-lie: A city planning issue?


The City Planning Commission will be taking up the proposed sit-lie law April 1. No, that’s not an April Fool’s joke — city planners are going to take testimony and weigh in on the proposal to ban sitting on the sidewalks. Why is this a planning issue? Well, Commissioner Michael Antonini asked for a hearing to see what other cities do (and he’ll probably push the commission to endorse the law) — and Commissioner Christina Olague wanted to see what impact the law would have on the city’s Pavement to Parks program.

It’s a serious question: A Planning Department staff report (PDF) discusses the issue in some depth, noting that the General Plan suggests that “parts of wide sidewalks can be turned into children’s play areas and sitting areas for adults.” General Plan policy 26.1 calls on the city to “consider the sidewalk as an important element in the citywide open-space system.” After all, streets and sidewalks take up 25 percent of all the land in San Francisco — far more than the parks.

And the Planning Department has been moving actively in the past year to turn more bits of pavement into temporary urban parks, places that used to be streets or sidewalks where people are now encouraged to …. sit. “It is unclear if the ordinance would apply to the temporary plazas and informal seating crated by Pavement to Parks,” the report concludes.

So expect some sparks to fly here, and for a heated debate if the commission tries to take action supporting or opposing the law.


Developers win, but just this round


So the developers won the first round of the 555 Washington battle — and the role of the Recreation and Parks and City Planning Commissions said a lot about the state of local politics today. In both cases, you had the equivalent of a party-line vote: Every commissioner appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom voted in favor of the project, and every commissioner appointed by the Board of Supervisors voted against it.

And since the Rec-Park commission is entirely made up of mayoral appointees, that vote was unanimous.

The fact that there were dissenting views on the Planning Commission is a clear indication of why it’s so important that the supes and the mayor both get to name members of that panel. And perhaps it’s time to apply the same standard to Rec-Park.

A sign of how bad it was at planning: Toward the end of the discussion on the certification of the environmental impact report, after board-appointed commissioner Christina Olague complained about the threats to the redwood trees on the site, commissioner Bill Lee insisted on taking some expert testimony on the issue. And who did he call up? The landscape architect for the project sponsor. Guess what? She thought the trees would be just fine.

But this shady deal is not done yet. The Planning Commission was set to vote not only on the EIR but on the other various approvals the project needs, but Sue Hestor, a lawyer and project foe, pointed out that the developer had made some last-minute changes to the plans, and by law, the public needed more time to review the new material. And the City Attorney’s Office, to its credit, agreed, and told the commission to continue that part of the vote for two weeks.

Meanwhile, it’s pretty clear that opponents will appeal the EIR certification to the Board of Supervisors — and the board will also have to approve the zoning changes and the sale of a public street that are necessary for the project to go forward.

And interesting twist at the commission meeting: Former Sup. Aaron Peskin pointed out that in 1992, a similar project came before the Recreation and Parks Commission — similar except that it was about half as tall. And the commission rejected it because it would cast shadows on public parkland.

And yet, a much bigger project, which must more extensive shadows, sailed through Newsom’s park panel — with no discussion at all. “This thing was a greased as it gets,” Peskin told me.


The Green Party’s nadir


This should be a great time for the Green Party. Its namesake color is being cited by every corporation and politician who wants to get in good with the environmentally-minded public; voters in San Francisco are more independent than ever; and progressives have been increasingly losing the hope they placed on President Barack Obama.
But the Green Party of San Francisco — which once had an influence on city politics that was disproportionate to its membership numbers — has hit a nadir. The number of Greens has steadily dwindled since its peak in 2003; the party closed its San Francisco office in November; and it has now lost almost all its marquee members.
Former mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez, school board member Jane Kim, community college board member John Rizzo, and Planning Commissioner Christina Olague have all left the party in the last year or so. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi — a founding member of the Green Party of California and its last elected official in San Francisco — has also been openly struggling with whether to remain with an organization that doesn’t have much to offer him anymore, particularly as he contemplates a bid for higher office.
While a growing progressive movement within the Democratic Party has encouraged some Greens to defect, particularly among those with political ambitions, that doesn’t seem to be the biggest factor. After all, the fastest growing political affiliation is “Decline to State” and San Francisco now has a higher percentage of these independent voters than any other California county: 29.3 percent, according to state figures.
Democratic Party registration in San Francisco stood at 56.7 percent in November, the second-highest percentage in the state after Alameda County, making this essentially a one-party town (at last count, there were 256,233 Democrats, 42,097 Republicans, and 8,776 Greens in SF). Although Republicans in San Francisco have always outnumbered Greens by about 4-1, the only elected San Francisco Republican in more than a decade was BART board member James Fang.
But Republicans could never have made a real bid for power in San Francisco, as Gonzalez did in his electrifying 2003 mayoral run, coming within 5 percentage points of beating Gavin Newsom, who outspent the insurgent campaign 6-1 and had almost the entire Democratic Party establishment behind him.
That race, and the failure of Democrats in Congress to avert the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, caused Green Party membership to swell, reaching its peak in San Francisco and statewide in November 2003. But it’s been a steady downward slide since then, locally and statewide.
So now, as the Green Party of California prepares to mark its 20th anniversary next month in Berkeley, it’s worth exploring what happened to the party and what it means for progressive people’s movements at a time when they seem to be needed more than ever. Mirkarimi was one of about 20 core progressive activists who founded the Green Party of California in 1990, laying the groundwork in the late 1980s when he spent almost two years studying the Green Party in Germany, which was an effective member of a coalition government there and something he thought the United States desperately needed.
“It was in direct response to the right-wing shift of the Democrats during the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations. It was so obvious that there had been an evacuation of the left-of-center values and policies that needed attention. So the era was just crying out woefully for a third party,” Mirkarimi said of the Green Party of California and its feminist, antiwar, ecological, and social justice belief system.
But he and the other founding Greens have discovered how strongly the American legal, political, and economic structures maintain the two-party system (or what Mirkarimi called “one party with two conservative wings”), locking out rival parties through restrictive electoral laws, control of political debates, and campaign financing mechanisms.
“I’m still very impassioned about the idea of having a Green Party here in the United States and here in California and San Francisco, vibrantly so. But I’m concerned that the Green Party will follow a trend like all third parties, which have proven that this country is absolutely uninviting — and in fact unwelcoming — of third parties and multiparty democracy,” Mirkarimi said.
Unlike some Greens, Mirkarimi has always sought to build coalitions and make common cause with Democrats when there were opportunities to advance the progressive agenda, a lesson he learned in Germany.
When he worked on Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign — a race that solidified the view of Greens as “spoilers” in the minds of many Democrats — Mirkarimi was involved in high-level negotiations with Democratic nominee Al Gore’s campaign, trying to broker some kind of leftist partnership that would elect Gore while advancing the progressive movement.
“There was great effort to try to make that happen, but unfortunately, everyone defaulted to their own anxieties and insecurities,” Mirkarimi said. “It was uncharted territory. It had never happened before. Everyone who held responsibility had the prospect of promise, and frankly, everybody felt deflated that the conversation did not become actualized into something real between Democrats and Greens. It could have.”
Instead, George W. Bush was narrowly elected president and many Democrats blamed Nader and the Greens, unfairly or not. And Mirkarimi said the Greens never did the post-election soul-searching and retooling that they should have. Instead, they got caught up in local contests, such as the Gonzalez run for mayor — “that beautiful distraction” — a campaign Mirkarimi helped run before succeeding Gonzalez on the board a year later.
Today, as he considers running for mayor himself, Mirkarimi is weighing whether to leave the party he founded. “I’m in a purgatory. I believe in multiparty democracy,” Mirkarimi said. “Yet tactically speaking, I feel like if I’m earnest in my intent to run for higher office, as I’ve shared with Greens, I’m not so sure I can do so as a Green.”
That’s a remarkable statement — in effect, an acknowledgement that despite some success on the local level, the Green Party still can’t compete for bigger prizes, leaving its leaders with nowhere to go. Mirkarimi said he plans to announce his decision — about his party and political plans — soon.
Gonzalez left the Green Party in 2008, changing his registration to DTS when he decided to be the running mate of Nader in an independent presidential campaign. That move was partly necessitated by ballot access rules in some states. But Gonzalez also thought Nader needed to make an independent run and let the Green Party choose its own candidate, which ended up being former Congress member Cynthia McKinney.
“I expressly said to Nader that I would not run with him if he sought the Green Party nomination,” Gonzalez told us. “The question after the campaign was: is there a reason to go back to the Green Party?”
Gonzalez concluded that there wasn’t, that the Greens had ceased to be a viable political party and that it “lacks a certain discipline and maturity.” Among the reasons he cited for the party’s slide were infighting, inadequate party-building work, and the party’s failure to effectively counter criticisms of Nader’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns.
“We were losing the public relations campaign of explaining what the hell happened,” he said.
Gonzalez was also critical of the decision by Mirkarimi and other Greens to endorse the Democratic Party presidential nominees in 2004 and 2008, saying it compromised the Greens’ critique of the two-party system. “It sort of brings that effort to an end.”
But Gonzalez credits the Green Party with invigorating San Francisco politics at an important time. “It was an articulation of an independence from the Democratic Party machine,” Gonzalez said of his decision to go from D to G in 2000, the year he was elected to the Board of Supervisors.
Anger at that machine and its unresponsiveness to progressive issues was running high at the time, and Gonzalez said the Green Party became one of the “four corners of the San Francisco left,” along with the San Francisco Tenants Union, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, which helped set a progressive agenda for the city.
“Those groups helped articulate what issues were important,” Gonzalez said, citing economic, environmental, electoral reform, and social justice issues as examples. “So you saw the rise of candidates who began to articulate our platform.” But the success of the progressive movement in San Francisco also sowed the seeds for the Green Party’s downfall, particularly after progressive Democrats Chris Daly, Tom Ammiano, and Aaron Peskin waged ideological battles with Mayor Gavin Newsom and other so-called “moderate Democrats” last year taking control of the San Francisco Democratic Party County Central Committee.
“Historically, the San Francisco Democratic Party has been a political weapon for whoever was in power. But now, it’s actually a democratic party. And it’s gotten progressive as well,” Peskin, the party chair, told us. “And for a lot of Greens, that’s attractive.”
The opportunity to take part in that intra-party fight was a draw for Rizzo and Kim, both elected office-holders with further political ambitions who recently switched from Green to Democrat.
“I am really concerned about the Democratic Party,” Rizzo, a Green since 1992, told us. “I’ve been working in politics to try to influence things from the outside. Now I’m going to try to influence it from the inside.”
Rizzo said he’s frustrated by the inability of Obama and Congressional Democrats to capitalize on their 2008 electoral gains and he’s worried about the long-term implications of that failure. “What’s going on in Washington is really counterproductive for the Democrats. These people [young, progressive voters] aren’t going to want to vote again.”
Rizzo and Kim both endorsed Obama and both say there needs to be more progressive movement-building to get him back on track with the hopes he offered during his campaign.
“I think it’s important for progressives in San Francisco to try to move the Democratic Party back to the left,” Kim, who is considering running for the District 6 seat on the Board of Supervisors, told us. “I’ve actually been leaning toward doing this for a while.”
Kim was a Democrat who changed her registration to Green in 2004, encouraged to do so by Gonzalez. “For me, joining the Green Party was important because I really believed in third-party politics and I hope we can get beyond the two-party system,” Kim said, noting the dim hopes for that change was also a factor in her decision to switch back.
Another Green protégé of Gonzalez was Olague, whom he appointed to the Planning Commission. Olague said she was frustrated by Green Party infighting and the party’s inability to present any real political alternative.
“We had some strong things happening locally, but I didn’t see any action on the state or national level,” Olague said. “They have integrity and they work hard, but is that enough to stay in a party that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere?”
But many loyal Greens dispute the assertion that their party is on the rocks. “I think the party is going pretty well. It’s always an uphill battle building an alternative party,” said Erika McDonald, spokesperson for the Green Party of San Francisco, noting that the party plans to put the money it saved on its former Howard Street headquarters space into more organizing and outreach. “The biggest problem is money.”
Green Party activist Eric Brooks agrees. “We held onto that office for year and year and didn’t spend the money on party building, like we should have done a long time ago,” he said. “That’s the plan now, to do some crucial party organizing.”
Mirkarimi recalls the early party-building days when he and other “Ironing Board Cowboys” would canvas the city on Muni with voter registration forms and ironing boards to recruit new members, activities that fell away as the party achieved electoral successes and got involved with policy work.
“It distracted us from the basics,” Mirkarimi said. Now the Green Party has to again show that it’s capable of that kind of field work in support of a broad array of campaigns and candidates: “If I want to grow, there has to be a companion strategy that will lift all boats. All of those who have left the Green Party say they still support its values and wish it future success. And the feeling is mostly mutual, although some Greens grumble about how their party is now being hurt by the departure of its biggest names.
“I don’t begrudge an ambitious politician leaving the Green Party,” said Dave Snyder, a member of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District Board of Directors, and one of the few remaining Greens in local government.
But Snyder said he won’t abandon the Green Party, which he said best represents his political values. “To join a party means you subscribe to its ideals. But you can’t separate its ideals from its actions. Based on its actions, there’s no way I could be a member of the Democratic Party,” Snyder said.
Current Greens say many of President Obama’s actions — particularly his support for Wall Street, a health reform effort that leaves insurance companies in control, and the escalation of the war in Afghanistan — vindicate their position and illustrate why the Green Party is still relevant.
“The disillusionment with Obama is a very good opportunity for us,” McDonald said, voicing hope they Green can begin to capture more DTS voters and perhaps even a few Democrats. And Brooks said, “The Obama wake-up call should tell Greens that they should stick with the party.”
Snyder also said now is the time for Greens to more assertively make the case for progressive organizing: “The Democrats can’t live up to the hopes that people put on them.”
Even Peskin agrees that Obama’s candidacy was one of several factors that hurt the Green Party. “The liberal to progressive support for the Obama presidency deflated the Greens locally and beyond. In terms of organizing, they didn’t have the organizational support and a handful of folks alienated newcomers.”
In fact, when Mirkarmi and the other Green pioneers were trying to get the party qualified as a legal political party in California — no small task — Democratic Party leaders acted as if the Greens were the end of the world, or at least the end of Democratic control of the state Legislature and the California Congressional delegation. They went to great lengths to block the young party’s efforts.
It turns out that the Greens haven’t harmed the Democrats much at all; Democrats have even larger majorities at every legislative level today.
What has happened is that the Obama campaign, and the progressive inroads into the local party, have made the Greens less relevant. In a sense, it’s a reflection of exactly what Green leaders said years ago: if the Democrats were more progressive, there would be less need for a third party.
But Mirkarimi and other Greens who endorsed Obama see this moment differently, and they don’t share the hope that people disappointed with Obama are going to naturally gravitate toward the Greens. Rizzo and Kim fear these voters, deprived of the hope they once had, will instead just check out of politics. “They need to reorganize for a new time and new reality,” Rizzo said of the Greens.
Part of that new reality involves working with candidates like Obama and trying to pull them to the left through grassroots organizing. Mirkarimi stands by his decision to endorse Obama, for which the Green Party disinvited him to speak at its annual national convention, even though he was one of his party’s founders and top elected officials.
“After a while, we have to take responsibility to try to green the Democrats instead of just throwing barbs at them,” Mirkarimi said. “Our critique of Obama now would be much more effective if we had supported him.”
Yet that’s a claim of some dispute within the Green Party, a party that has often torn itself apart with differences over strategy and ideology, as it did in 2006 when many party activists vocally opposed the gubernatorial campaign of former Socialist Peter Camejo. And old comrades Mirkarimi and Gonzalez still don’t agree on the best Obama strategy, even in retrospect.
But they and other former Greens remain hopeful that the country can expand its political dialogue, and they say they are committed to continuing to work toward that goal. “I think there will be some new third party effort that emerges,” Gonzalez said. “It can’t be enough to not be President Bush. People want to see the implementation of a larger vision.”

Transamerica condos: the mystery continues


I’m not going to actually suggest that anyone watch all four hours-plus of the Planning Commission hearing last week on the highrise condo tower at 555 Washington. But if you’ve got the time, it’s a fascinating video.

And here’s what’s most interesting: A lot of the discussion revolved around what Commissioner Michael Antonini said was a need to continue the item to a later date. That’s because three of the commissioners — the ones appointed by the Board of Supervisors — were dubious about the project’s environmental impact report, so it would take all four of the mayoral appointees to let the project go forward. But Commissioner Gwyneth Borden couldn’t make the meeting. Antonini went ballistic at one point, and stormed out of the room, saying that it was disrespectful to Borden not to grant a continuance.
That struck Commission Vice-President Christina Olague as kind of odd. “I was taken aback by the accusations that we were somehow being insensitive,” she told me. “To my knowledge, Commissioner Borden never made any request for a continuance. There was nothing in writing and she never communicated it to me.”

But then the strangeness started to happen. Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya moved not to certify the environmental impact report on the project. That motion was defeated, 3-2, with Antonini off in a huff somewhere and Borden absent.

Now, normally, in these situations, the president looks for a substitute motion. In this case, a motion to approve the DEIR could have been made, and that, too, would have been defeated. Once the motion to approve went down, the DEIR would be scuttled and the developer would have to start again.

But instead, the commission secretary simply announced that the matter would be continued to March 18. And a week later, I’m still trying to figure out how that was possible.

After all, the commission had decided — openly, in public — NOT to accept a continuance. Then all of a sudden, without a vote of the body, Antonini got his way. The DEIR will be heard again, presumably with the mayor’s fourth vote present.

This is a major project, and I’m not going to argue that it’s fate should hang on an issue of procedure. But nobody has been able to explain to me how a matter gets continued without a vote to continue. The best I can figure is that without any motion on the floor, and no action pending, the secretary had no choice but to continue the matter.

“It all happened so fast,” Olague said. “I want to go back and review everything to see exactly what ocurred.”

Attorney Sue Hestor, who opposes the project, told me that after the lengthy list of serious flaws with the DEIR, which were presented in great detail at the hearing, it will be hard for the commissioners to certify the document. But the pressure from the Mayor’s Office is intense — Michael Yarne, the mayor’s Economic and Workforce Development advisor, was at the meeting, cornering commissioners outside. And four of the members serve at the mayor’s pleasure.


The Candlestick farce


No one was really surprised when commissioners for the Redevelopment Agency and Planning Department voted last week to only give the public a Scrooge-like 15 days to review a six-volume, 4,400-page draft environmental impact report for Lennar Corp.’s massive 700-acre Candlestick Point redevelopment project.

Everybody knew that Michael Cohen, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s top economic advisor, wanted to jam this proposal through the certification process by early June in a last-ditch effort to win back the 49ers, even though the team has said it wants to go to Oakland if the City of Santa Clara doesn’t vote to build a new stadium.

The decision gives the public until Jan. 12th to submit written comments on the DEIR. A broad coalition of community and environmental justice groups asked for a 45-day extension.

And the entire process — including condescending remarks by commissioners, a fight, the forcible removal of several members of the audience, and statements from developer allies that were, at best, highly misleading — can only be described as a farce.

The rush to approve the document is entirely political. Santa Clara voters go to the ballot June 8 to decide if they want to build the 49ers a fancy facility near Great America. But June 8 is the same day, according to a spreadsheet maintained by city Shipyard/Candlestick planners, that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is scheduled to approve the EIR for Lennar’s proposal.

The city’s DEIR envisions building a new 49ers stadium on the shipyard — a position that would allow thousands of luxury condos to be built on the site where the team currently plays, including a significant slice of Candlestick Point State Recreation Area.

To meet the increasingly artificial-looking June 8 EIR deadline, Cohen signaled he’d only be able to squeeze out 15 extra days for draft EIR review.


With Cohen nowhere in sight at the DEIR hearings last week, his deputy, Tiffany Bohee, was left to kick off Redevelopment’s Dec. 15 and Planning’s Dec. 17 DEIR hearings.

“Time does matter for this project,” Bohee told commissioners, claiming that the project has been vetted exhaustively, including at least 177 public meetings — when the truth was that the public had never had an opportunity to review the complete draft EIR, a binding legal document, before its recent release.

“The consequence of delays is that it precludes the city’s ability to get ahead of the Santa Clara election in June,” Bohee said.

Bohee’s introduction was followed by a string of “no delay” and other off-point comments from representatives of the San Francisco Labor Council, the San Francisco Organizing Project, SF ACORN, and other groups that signed a community benefits agreement with Lennar in May 2008 that promised them millions of dollars in work and housing benefits — provided they show up at public meetings and support the development.

SF Labor Council vice president Connie Ford told commissioners that her organization “looks forward to the day when much-needed resources and support comes our way.”

A dozen residents of the Alice Griffith public housing project talked about their deplorable living conditions.

Asked by Redevelopment commissioner London Breed what the impact of a DEIR review extension would have on the planned rebuild of the Alice Griffith project, Bohee said, “It will jeopardize our ability to get any city decision on the project by June. As a result, delays to Alice Griffith could be indefinite.”

But that’s a stretch — at best. According to Lennar and the city’s own schedule, new Alice Griffith replacement units won’t be available before 2015 at the earliest. An additional 30 days of environmental review at this point will make no difference.


Compounding the city’s half-truths was the patronizing attitude of those commissioners who thought that their opinion of the DEIR should satisfy members of the public who hadn’t had enough time to review it.

“I think it’s an extremely well done document,” Planning commissioner Michael Antonini told a crowd that had sat through five hours of testimony and been warned by Planning Commission chair Ron Miguel that they’d been thrown out if they spoke during others’ testimony.

Bizarrely, planning commissioner Bill Lee tried to use the fact that the public wasn’t making many substantive comments on the DEIR as an argument against giving anyone more time to read it. Commissioner Gwyneth Borden made the equally odd argument that since people are almost certain to sue the city over the DEIR, there’s no reason to give an extension now.

And Miguel asked the public to put their faith in some vague meeting in the future rather than agreeing to what were asking for at the meeting. “I do believe that when all the comments are considered and answered and the final EIR comes before us and the Redevelopment Agency, that everything will come together,” Miguel said.

By that time, Arc Ecology’s director Saul Bloom, Jaron Browne of People Organized to Win Employment Rights, and POWER’s attorney Sue Hestor told the commissioners that they believe the project’s impacts on transportation, state park habitat, and the foraging requirements of the peregrine falcon had not been adequately analyzed. Eric Brooks of the Green Party expressed concern that sea level rise will be more pronounced than the DEIR projections.

Bloom also explained that a lack of adequate review time hindered his staff’s ability to prepare comments in time for a hearing that came only a month after the DEIR’s release.

Planning Commission vice president Christina Olague and commissioners Kathrin Moore and Hisashi Sugaya tried to extend the review period to February. As Olague pointed out, the commission recently granted a public DEIR review extension to a 15,959-square-foot parcel in Russian Hill, which is tiny compared to Lennar’s 708-acre proposal in the Bayview, where residents have the city’s lowest educational levels

But the Planning Commission’s 4-3 vote against a February extension revealed how mayoral appointees ignore common sense once they have their political marching orders.


“This appears to be all about Cohen’s fantasy of out-maneuvering Santa Clara to get the 49ers to move into a new Hunters Point stadium,” Hestor told the Guardian.

Hestor also pointed to a Dec. 18 San Francisco Business Times guest editorial titled “Business Leaders Can Save the Niners” that Planning Commissioner Michael Antonini had clearly written before Planning’s marathon Dec. 17 hearing.

“The editorial illuminates why, at the Planning Commission on Dec. 17, Antonini argued against any extension for public comment on the DEIR beyond Dec. 28,” Hestor said, noting that Dec. 28 was the absolute minimum DEIR review period required under the California Environmental Quality Act — a review period that straddled Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanza and Christmas (see Holiday Snowjob, 12/09/09).

Earlier this month, a coalition of environmental and community development groups, including Arc Ecology, the Sierra Club, the Potrero Hill Democratic Club, San Francisco Tomorrow, Literacy for Environmental Justice, Young Community Developers, the Neighborhood Parks Council, the South East Jobs Coalition, Walden House, Urban Strategies Council, India Basin Neighborhood Association, California Native Plants Society, Golden Gate Audubon Society, and the Bayview Resource Center, wrote to Mayor Gavin Newsom, requesting a 45-day DEIR review extension.

The request seemed further vindicated when it became apparent that most of the people who showed up at the DEIR hearings, including those opposed to extending the review period, admitted that they had not actually read the documents in question. And the commissioners’ failure to honor the extension request represents a new low in a process that threatens to become a classic lesson in the dangers of public-private partnerships.

Opponents of giving the public a decent chance to read the DEIR argue that there have already been hundreds of meetings on the proposed project. But as Bloom pointed out, the character and focus of EIR is different from any other document that has been produced for discussion. “If an issue is not raised during the EIR process, it cannot be raised subsequently,” Bloom said. “Releasing an EIR during the holiday season and providing the minimum amount of time allowable under the law for public review undermines the public’s ability to evaluate an EIR and disenfranchises people at one of the most critical points of the project approval process.”

Bloom also noted that a standard strategy for drastically limiting public input while appearing to be transparent is to spend time evaluating nonbinding documents while providing the minimum time required to evaluate the legally binding stuff.

“The Phase 2 Urban Design Plan released in October 2008 was in public discussion until it was approved in February 2009 — five months,” Bloom observed, noting that nothing in that document was legally binding. Neither was Lennar required to disclose negative effects of its plan. But an EIR is a legally binding document. “It’s a fiction that a 45-day DEIR public review extension would have cause a domino effect of indefinitely delaying the approval of the project,” Bloom added.




This message is a reply to an editorial appearing in the Guardian, "Pelosi can’t duck the next Bush war," (8/20/08). In the editorial Rep. Nancy Pelosi sides with Republican and "bipartisan" House leaders to state that "in the strongest possible terms" that "the US is committed to Georgia’s absolute sovereignty [in that region of the world]."

Now, I always thought Pelosi had the common sensibility of a good San Fransisco liberal, but to side with Republican Reps. Roy Blunt and John Boehner is an alarming sign of poor judgment in character. And for her to imagine that the Soviet state of Georgia could any more be "sovereign" in that Russian region of the world is like imagining that that the US state of Georgia (or Oregon or Massachusets, etc.) could be "sovereign" in economic power over the United States simply because it had an oil port and was being extorted by a big foreign bully unafraid to pull the trigger. This battle is not about democracy and independence but about oil money and someone trying to steal another region’s resources.

I still love Nancy, though.

Tharon Chandler




Kimo Crossman:

Ethics and John St. Croix have gotten the SF Redaction Cancer — the exemption allowing redaction before online posting is limited to currently elected and appointed officials only.

We are talking about information commonly available in commercial mailing lists and the phone book/online search.

Imagine if the Elections Department refused to post contact information of nonincumbents running for office — people who choose to be public? Or you were prohibited from accessing home sales records from the Assessor-Recorder — because it has a street address. Or the large majority of court records online.

How would one easily confirm the number of homes John McCain has?


Terrrie Frye:

I am sure that when the city takes over what was the Marian Residence, it will not be as well run or treat the folks with as much dignity as I have heard about the Marian Residence. I am saddened by the loss. The city should keep it as a women’s shelter, just as it is, and put the respite beds at another location only for respite beds.


Chris Daly:

While there are currently four straight white men on the Board of Supervisors, it’s likely there will be only two next year. This is due to progressives’ strong candidates of color in this cycle. If progressives hold my seat in 2010, the Board could be down to one straight white man.

While there are only three female supervisors and few strong candidates in this cycle, the future of women at the Board is very bright. Debra Walker, Jane Kim, Christina Olague, Marie Harrison, Kim-Shree Maufas, Jaynry Mak, London Breed, April Veneracion, and Rachel Redondiez could each hold a seat in the next decade.


Due to a copy error, "The Circle Game: Parsing the return of the singer-songwriter" (8/20/08) inaccurately stated that Ruthann Friedmann is deceased; the singer-songwriter is very much alive.

The 8/20 Local Artist misidentified the school where Keith Rale received his BFA and MFA. Hale grduated from (and sometimes teaches at) San Francisco Art Institute.

The Guardian welcomes letters commenting on our coverage or other topics of local interest. Letters should be brief (we reserve the right to edit them for length) and signed. Please include a daytime telephone number for verification.

Corrections and clarifications: The Guardian tries to report news fairly and accurately. You are invited to complain to us when you think we have fallen short of that objective. Complaints should be directed to Paula Connelly, the assistant to the publisher. We’d prefer them in writing, but Connelly can also be reached by phone at (415) 255-3100. If we have published a misstatement, we will endeavor to correct it quickly and in an appropriate place in the newspaper. If you remain dissatisfied, we invite you to contact the Minnesota News Council, an impartial organization that hears and considers complaints against news media. It can be reached at 12 South Sixth St., Suite 1122, Minneapolis, MN 55402; (612) 341-9357; fax (612) 341-9358.

The commissioner’s conflicts



Before the June 5 special meeting of the San Francisco Planning Commission got underway, Michael Antonini had an announcement.

Dressed in a charcoal suit and red-checked tie, with his white hair combed back over his skull, the longtime commissioner disclosed that he was a part owner of a condominium in the eastern neighborhoods, where a years-long rezoning effort is nearly complete. That means Antonini is among the people who could benefit from increased land values due to zoning upgrades.

As a result, Antonini begrudgingly declared that he would have to recuse himself from hearings involving the eastern neighborhoods until the potential conflict is dealt with.

"Hopefully this can be resolved in the next few weeks and I’ll be able to participate at later hearings," Antonini said at the meeting.

But it was a bit late to be complying with the state’s conflict-of-interest laws: Antonini had already actively taken part in meetings in which the plan was discussed. And Antonini also neglected to mention that after he and his son purchased the condo, he voted on two other projects that appear to be within steps of it.

Public records show that Antonini bought the $515,000 condo at 200 Townsend Street in 2003 with his real estate agent son, John. Commissioner Antonini and his wife own a 25 percent stake in the property through a family trust the couple created in 1997. His son holds the majority interest.

Antonini worked hard to play down his stake in the condo at the June 5 meeting. It’s not an investment property, he made clear to the commissioners. There’s no rent generated from it. He’s a mere minority holder in a family trust that controls the condo, and it was purchased as a residence for his son and his wife.

"Because I did not believe our fractional interest in John’s condo represented a conflict, I did not consider reclusing [sic] myself from projects near the condo," Antonini wrote to the Guardian.

But the laws on this are pretty clear. The state’s Political Reform Act of 1974 prohibits public officials from participating in decisions that will have a "foreseeable material financial effect on one or more of his/her economic interests." It also states that any "direct or indirect interest" worth more than $2,000 poses a potential conflict, for which a 25 percent stake in a half-million dollar condo would seem to qualify.


Other public officials in similar situations have recused themselves long before the issue became a potential political liability.

Sup. Bevan Dufty bought into a three-unit residential property on Waller Street with two co-tenants in December 2006. He immediately sought advice from the city attorney, who told him he no longer could vote on the Market-Octavia Plan, a series of land-use changes in Hayes Valley, Duboce Triangle, and elsewhere that was similar in scope to the current rezoning efforts in the eastern neighborhoods. The supervisor also couldn’t vote on a major Laguna Street redevelopment project or on legislation making it easier for seniors to convert rental units to condos.

Antonini told us that "only in the last month" did the city attorney warn some officials involved with plans for the eastern neighborhoods that if they held property in the area, there could be a conflict of interest.

"We’ve been working on [the eastern neighborhoods] for the whole six years I’ve been on the planning commission," he said at the meeting. "It’s a little troubling that this issue of conflict is raised now rather than at the very beginning."

The law does make an exception when the economic interests of the "public generally" could also be enhanced by a government decision such as those that have an impact on a large section of the city like the eastern neighborhoods. But the city attorney’s office concluded for now that the condo indeed may pose a conflict. And in the meantime, Antonini told us that the Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento, which helps enforce the state’s Political Reform Act, is being consulted to determine "whether our fractional interest in the condo truly represents a conflict of interest."

The eastern neighborhoods planning process isn’t the only legislation that created a potential conflict for Antonini. The commissioner voted in January 2007 to approve construction of 26 new single-room occupancy units at 25 Lusk Alley, not far from his property at 200 Townsend. The project’s sponsor, Michael Yarne, is a land-use attorney who today works for the mayor’s economic development office. The project was approved, according to meeting minutes.

The project itself relied on a contentious legal loophole in which developers claim their units are "single-room occupancy," a necessity because the area permits residential efficiency hotels where the poor and working-class used to live. Allowing such SRO hotels in areas zoned for light industrial uses enabled the city to preserve some forms of affordable housing. But builders can turn around and lease the opulently large units such as the ones at 25 Lusk, which bear little resemblance to genuine SRO rooms, to well-heeled clients.

"They are allowed where normal residential units are not allowed, because historically SROs were always extremely affordable housing," community organizer Calvin Welch said. "The whole notion of market-rate SROs is a new invention, and that’s why they’re controversial. They’re basically the new version of live-work lofts."

In November 2006, Antonini also voted to approve a liquor license for a new full-service restaurant and wine bar at 216 Townsend, even closer to his son’s condo.


State ethics laws say that a public official has a conflict if his or her property comes within 500 feet of a project the official will be scrutinizing and voting on.

Conservatively measuring from the furthest corners of each property, Google Earth puts both the proposed restaurant and SRO within 500 feet.

Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles–based Center for Governmental Studies and co-author of the state’s Political Reform Act, said a public official could face $5,000 in civil penalties for each conflict-of-interest violation. But it’s not common for the chronically under-resourced FPPC to go after local officials, he said.

Mayoral spokesperson Nathan Ballard wrote in an e-mail that "we take any allegations of conflicts of interest seriously" but added there is a disagreement over whether the "public generally" exception applied to the eastern neighborhoods and that the City Attorney’s Office was seeking additional input from the FPPC.

As for the two projects he voted on near the condo, Antonini apparently told the mayor’s office he had looked into whether 25 Lusk fell inside 500 feet. "Based on his understanding at the time," Ballard wrote, "they didn’t."

That’s a stretch, at best. The projects are in the same block. We walked them off and found that Antonini would have to be splitting hairs to argue that they are outside the boundary — and even in that case, it would be only by a few feet. The rusty red paint job, black trim, and stylish, outsize windows of 200 Townsend are easily viewable from the backside of 25 Lusk.

"If there is a legitimate argument that they did fall within the 500-foot radius, this should be clarified," Ballard stated. "However, given the relative insignificance of the two projects cited in your e-mail and Antonini’s long-standing reputation as an ethical and hard-working commissioner, we don’t have any reason to believe that he would have knowingly and/or willingly violated the state’s Fair Political Practices Act."

But the Lusk Street project was by no means insignificant. "They are highly regulated," Welch said of SROs. "You cannot convert them to tourist hotels without going through a very long and cumbersome process. They are valued for affordable housing so highly that the city regulates their conversion to tourist uses." So instead, the "corporate suites," as Welch calls them, masquerade as SROs. The project was approved in the end, but two commissioners — Christina Olague and Sugaya Hisashi — voted against it.

Antonini told us that he believes 25 Lusk is more than 500 feet away, and as for the restaurant, planning staff recommended approval.

The commissioner told us, "I was the one who brought public attention to the issue of my possible conflict. I believe it is a small issue when compared to my body of work on behalf of San Francisco over the last six years."

The June 5 meeting where Antonini made the disclosure about his son’s condo was part of a long and detailed process that will determine the fate of vast sections of Potrero Hill, SoMa, the Mission District, and Dogpatch. The official planning process for the targeted 2,200-acre area began back in 2001, and the commissioners could approve new zoning plans next month before sending the proposal to the Board of Supervisors.

For much of San Francisco’s history, the city sections poised for rezoning have been home to light industry and blue-collar jobs. But housing has encroached over the last 15 years, and the planning commission is prepared to allow between 8,000 and 10,000 new units over the next 20 years. That will almost certainly increase the value of land in the area.

Residential developers built thousands of pricey condos in the SoMa District during the 1990s, exploiting another divisive zoning loophole that created waves of animosity across the city and aided in a takeover of the Board of Supervisors by a progressive bloc of candidates.

Live/work lofts, as developers called them, were built in areas zoned for light industrial commercial purposes. Wealthy buyers would ostensibly operate businesses out of their homes or live in them as working artists as the zoning required, but few have complied with the letter or — having found ways to narrowly abide by it — the spirit of the law.

"The city turned its head," housing attorney Sue Hestor said. "We have 3,000 units that are supposed to be occupied by artists and probably 90 percent of them are not occupied by artists at all. It’s blatantly illegal."

Antonini has managed to maintain friendships with local moderate Democrats over the years despite being an elected member of San Francisco’s Republican Party County Central Committee. Willie Brown first appointed him to the powerful planning commission in 2002, and he’s been a reliable vote for developers and other large business interests. Mayor Gavin Newsom reappointed him in 2004 and earlier this year tried to engineer Antonini’s election as president of the commission.

Woo-hoo, a planning party


What are you doing after work tomorrow? Critical Mass? The Alterna-Mass that all the cool bikers are talking about? Maybe a happy hour somewhere, or heading home to get dolled up for the Bohemian Carnival?
Hey, how about the Market-Octavia Plan Party?
— cue the crickets —
OK, OK, maybe a party to mark the successful end of the years-long process to create and win political approval for a new Market & Octavia Neighborhood Plan is something that only a policy wonk can get excited about. But it is a very San Francisco type of plan, creating strict limits on new parking, good affordable housing incentives, and design standards promoting walkability. As plan participant and party promoter Jason Henderson said, “This is the plan that sets the precedent for a more sustainable, car-lite future for San Francisco.”
Not doing it for you? Try this quote from the party invite: “Munchies and partial hosted bar.” Better? It’s also at the Rickshaw Stop, the coolest bar in Hayes Valley, from 5:30-9:30. And it will feature speeches by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, Planning Commission President Christina Olague and lots of others who helped bring this baby home.
So come on down…if you’re into that sort of thing.

Newsom’s fixers


EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom is acting more and more like his predecessor, Willie Brown. It’s an alarming trend, and Newsom needs to take some steps right away to assure the public that he’s not letting political fixers run the city.

We’ve been seeing signs that Newsom is becoming more of an imperial mayor for months, ever since he launched his new administration with a demand that all of the department heads and commissioners resign. The idea, he said, was to bring a fresh start and new ideas to his second term — but he never explained exactly what those new ideas were or why the current city officials weren’t living up to them. And it was clear that some of his moves were motivated by nothing but politics: ousting Susan Leal as head of the Public Utilities Commission had nothing to do with her job performance and everything to do with the fact that she had been willing to challenge Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s power monopoly.

The shenanigans continue. As Sarah Phelan reported on last week, Newsom just attempted a coup at the Planning Commission, moving behind the scenes to oust Christina Olague, a progressive appointed by the supervisors, from her post as vice president. Newsom and his crew wanted to install his loyalists, Sue Lee and Mike Antonini, as president and vice president of the panel.

That move, sources told us, was orchestrated through Dean Macris, the former planning director who needs to get the hell out of that department. Macris still has his fingers firmly planted in the planning pie; he maintains an office in the department as a "liaison to the mayor."

The mayor has also managed to pad his own office’s budget while cutting key city services — and has, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported Jan. 25, used funny accounting to divert money from Muni to the Mayor’s Office payroll. And he continues to use the San Francisco International Airport as a place to put highly paid employees who have, at best, unclear job descriptions.

This is the sort of thing that led to Brown’s downfall: the voters, infuriated by backroom deals, voted nearly all of Brown’s allies out of office in 2000 and elected a Board of Supervisors that had a mandate to block the mayor’s worst initiatives.

Newsom has always insisted he’s a different type of politician than his predecessor and onetime mentor, and his future political career will depend on his ability to make that image stick. Brown’s reputation for corruption was the main reason he never had any hope of seeking or winning a statewide office.

If Newsom wants to avoid that fate, he can start with a few significant changes:

<\!s>Knock off the secrecy and sleaze. If Newsom has a reason to replace a department head or commissioner — and there are good reasons to fire a bunch of them — he needs to make that public. If someone isn’t carrying out his policies, fine: explain what the policies are and where he and the official in question part ways. Don’t pull out the knives and do the dirty work of PG&E and the developers behind closed doors.

<\!s>Be open about the jobs and the money. If the mayor really believes he needs a bunch of new $150,000-per-year aides, fine: take that money out of the General Fund and tell the public where it’s coming from. Budgets are displays of political priorities, especially in tight years, and the voters have a right to know what the mayor cares about most.

<\!s>Keep the operatives out of City Hall. Brown had lobbyists and consultants cutting deals in room 200 almost every day. Newsom needs to make it clear that campaign advisors aren’t making policy or personnel decisions.

We have four more years of Newsom to go, and if he keeps up this kind of crap, he’s going to find himself fighting the board — and the voters — at every step.

Attempted Power Grab at the Planning Commission


A mayoral power grab was narrowly thwarted at the San Francisco Planning Commission in a 4-3 vote, Jan. 17.

Commission Vice President Christina Olague led the counter charge against perceived interference from the Mayor’s Office, questioning why there was a proposal to continue election of the Commission’s President and Vice President to Feb. 7, 2008.
According to Commission regulations, the election of these officers typically takes place on the first meeting after January 15, and Olague said she saw no point in postponing the election, which had originally been scheduled for January 17.

Olague acknowledged that Mayor Gavin Newsom requested the mass resignation of his department heads and commission appointees, last fall. But she also noted that the January 7, 2008 deadline for Newsom to accept the resignations had already come and gone.

Citizen planning



The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan has become a high-stakes battleground involving anxious developers stalled by a temporary building moratorium, progressives who want more affordable housing, concerns about dwindling light-industrial spaces and an exodus of African American residents, environmental justice, and a list of other issues that are central to this sprawling section of the city.

But the folks in the neighborhood known as Western SoMa are just happy that they’re no longer a part of that mess. Instead, they’re excitedly experimenting with a new approach to planning using an innovative and largely untested grassroots model.

Five years ago, when the city Planning Department first announced its intention to rezone the Eastern Neighborhoods, a group of disenchanted SoMa residents decided that they wanted to secede from that process and develop an independent, more comprehensive, community-based plan.

"A lot of us were offended by the Planning Department’s top-down, autocratic process," Jim Meko, who later became chair of the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force, told the Guardian. "It was a bad process for everybody, but it was particularly bad for SoMa because the neighborhood had already been rezoned in the 1990s."

Meko survived three major demographic shifts within three decades: the AIDS epidemic that decimated SoMa’s gay community, the live-work loft zoning loopholes that gutted the artistic community, and the dot-com crash that displaced many techies. He feared that the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan would impose a "one-size-fits-all mode that treated all of SoMa like postindustrial wasteland."

So Meko set his sights on pressuring the Planning Commission to split his neighborhood from the rest of the Eastern Neighborhoods, which include the Mission District, Eastern SoMa, Showplace Square, Potrero Hill, and the Central Waterfront. Western SoMa is bordered by Mission and Bryant, 13th and Fourth streets, and Harrison and Townsend.

That dream became a reality in February 2004, and that November the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force formed, with a stated objective to "recommend zoning changes that will preserve the heart and soul of their neighborhood, while planning for the realities of 21st-century growth."

Since beginning its work in 2005, the 22-member task force has met as often as five times a month and has created a values statement; a set of planning principles; committees focusing on business and land use, transportation, and arts and entertainment; and a committee that integrates a variety of issues.

Its June 28 town hall meeting was the first time the task force threw the doors open to the community at large, although the occasion happened to come on the heels of a high-profile budget battle between Mayor Gavin Newsom and Sup. Chris Daly, whose district includes SoMa and who helped set up the task force.

Within five minutes of Meko’s kicking off the meeting, a small but vocal group of attendees began to heckle him midspeech. Perhaps they were there to confront Daly, who had been slated to attend but was out of town. Whatever the reason, while accusing Meko of "having an agenda" and "using the bully pulpit" to present his own views, this faction was anxious to know how many task force members are property owners and which particular group of them would be dealing with crime, the fight against which Newsom has made a top budget priority.

For one wobbly, tension-filled moment, it felt as if this first crack at a citizen planning forum might crumble. But then another participant saved the day by requesting a simple but basic meeting ground rule: no personal attacks.

From that moment, the mood in the room lightened. Pretty soon the rest of the 150 residents who had gathered in the multipurpose room of Bessie Carmichael School on Seventh Street to share their thoughts on Western SoMa were talking about what they liked and what could improve. Even the hecklers quieted down and seemed to meld into the discussion.

As Planning Commissioner Christina Olague put it at the meeting, "This is possibly one of the most exciting things going on in planning. No one understands the heart and soul of a neighborhood like the people who live there. We hope this is a model other neighborhoods will adopt, because a neighborhood plan without the involvement of neighbors who live and breath a community is chaos — just a bunch of buildings zoned in a language no one can read or feel."

But while residents were happy to create lists of neighborhood needs — more parks, bike lanes, affordable housing, child care facilities, and trees; wider sidewalks; and fewer homeless people — they were less keen on the idea of increasing building heights. One proposed means of financing improvements would be to increase allowable heights from 40 to 65 feet in some places.

Some locals complained about partygoers who urinate in the streets and play music loudly in cars instead of going home when the clubs close. But a youthful resident politely pointed out that "it may not be possible to stop young people from being young."

In the face of requests from senior citizens for more dinner theater and fewer nightclubs in SoMa, task force member and nightclub owner Terrance Allen observed that it’s probably only possible to "nudge existing conditions."

Recalling the battle that broke out between residents and partygoers after city planners decided to put affordable housing next to the wildly popular nightclub 1015 Folsom, Allen said, "You don’t want to start a war by putting subsidized housing next to the city’s biggest nightclub." Or as Meko put it, "We don’t want to set up conflicts by putting family housing across from the Stud."

By evening’s end, the consensus was that the meeting was a success. "We have much more in common than we have apart. That’s the whole key," said Marc Salomon, who sits on the task force’s transportation committee. As Meko told the Guardian the next day, "Wasn’t it a fantastic experience? It was the closest thing to a cocktail party without a bartender."

Meko said the task force is eager to complete its work and is shooting for having a draft plan ready by the next town hall meeting, on Oct. 24.

"But we need to do more community outreach," he added, noting that there weren’t many Filipinos at the first meeting even though they have a large presence in Western SoMa. "We’re looking at what SoMa could be like in 20 years. The other Eastern Neighborhoods are watching, and they are envious." *