Bicycle projects in San Francisco — from the ambitious Blue Greenway initiative to new bike lanes to the simple shared-lane arrows, or “sharrows,” that have been painted on some roadways — have been shut down by a preliminary injunction that Judge James Warren signed as one of his final actions before retiring.
The ruling is part of a lawsuit brought by Rob Anderson, a 63-year-old dishwasher, blogger (whose District 5 Diary regularly blasts the “bike nuts” and “anticar activists”), and failed District 5 supervisorial candidate. Anderson and two groups he formed — Ninety-Nine Percent (referring to those who he believes don’t ride bicycles) and Coalition for Adequate Review — last year sued the city over its Bicycle Plan, arguing that it should have received more rigorous environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Unless the injunction is overturned, city officials are prohibited from making any physical changes contemplated by the plan until completion of a trial that’s set to begin Sept. 13. The Bicycle Plan, which California cities must update every five years to qualify for certain public funds, was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors and signed by the mayor last year.
City officials and bicycle advocates were shocked by the scope of Warren’s ruling. “This is big. It’s means nothing new for bikes for probably the next year,” said Andy Thornley, program director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “It’s pretty strict, even worse than we feared.”
Beyond the prohibition of “installing bicycle lanes on any street in San Francisco named or described in any part of the plan and its maps” and a range of other physical changes, the ruling says the city can’t pursue plans to allow more bikes on public transit. Anderson and attorney Mary Miles didn’t get everything they wanted, such as an end to the city’s “educational or training programs, enforcement activities, or promotional activities,” but that was small consolation to city officials.
“We’re disappointed with the injunction and we disagree with Judge Warren’s conclusions,” said Matt Dorsey, spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office. Dorsey said the lawsuit and injunction defy the spirit of CEQA, as well as its specific exemptions for bike lanes on public streets. “Bikes are already allowed the use of all the streets in San Francisco.”
But Anderson said the Bike Plan should have been subjected to a full-blown environmental impact report before being approved, rather than a finding of exemption from such review, as the board ruled.
“This is not about the contents of the plan itself. It is about the process,” Anderson told the Guardian.
But Anderson’s arguments go well beyond process and bureaucratic details — instead they are driven by what appears to be deep animosity toward the bicycle community, which he has expressed on his blog and in public comments during city meetings.
“I think cycling in the city is dangerous and foolish,” Anderson told us. “It’s irresponsible for the city to encourage an inherently dangerous activity.”
Despite that danger Anderson said he doesn’t believe the city should be building bike lanes or pursuing other safety measures because only a very small percentage of city residents will ever ride bikes. He said that bicyclists are nothing but “an elitist special interest.”
Anderson refused to identify who’s helping to fund his suit or other members of his organization, except to say it’s a “small group” that mostly drives cars. (Anderson said he relies mostly on public transit and walking.) Although he said he believes in global warming and decries traffic congestion, he doesn’t believe bikes are a reasonable form of alternative transportation.
“It’s a progressive fantasy. Bicycles are not the answer to any problem. This is America, not Amsterdam. There are big cars and lots of them,” Anderson told us.
Yet city officials remain uniformly committed to promoting bicycling.
On June 23, Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a public statement saying, in part, “Despite Judge Warren’s preliminary injunction, I remain committed to making San Francisco a national leader for bicycle transportation. Our goal is to increase the number of bike trips in the city to reach 10 percent of all trips by 2010. My administration will do everything within our power to reach that goal.” SFBG
Mayor Gavin Newsom has garnered media accolades for his San Francisco Health Access Plan, which would provide the city’s 82,000 uninsured residents a package of health care services, including preventative, primary, specialty, and emergency care, lab work, X-rays, pharmaceuticals, and inpatient hospitalization.
All of this sounds good until you consider how the press has glossed over serious flaws in Newsom’s plan, which was coauthored by Sup. Tom Ammiano. And SFHAP could be doomed to fail unless coupled with the more controversial Ammiano-authored health care legislation: the Worker Health Care Security Ordinance (WHSCO).
Ammiano’s ordinance would require employers operating within the city that have at least 20 employees (or 50 employees for nonprofits) to provide health care coverage for their workers. Predictably these mandatory spending requirements have the business community screaming its opposition — and Newsom, who is up for reelection next year, pussyfooting around the issue.
But the truth is that Newsom hasn’t detailed how to fully pay for his plan or avoid its policy pitfalls without the financial and structural boost that WHSCO’s mandates provide.
“There is no separation between the two pieces of legislation except in the way they’ve been presented. They’re joined at the hip, and there will be no funding gap with both pieces of legislation working together,” Ammiano told the Guardian.
Here’s how the plans work: To cover the estimated $200 million cost of Newsom’s sliding scale SFHAP, the city would contribute the $104 million it currently spends on the uninsured, hoping that more preventive care would efficiently translate into lower emergency room costs.
Add that to an estimated $60 million that the city thinks higher income enrollees will pay, plus an additional $10 million in estimated savings from increased federal cost-sharing. But even if all that works out, there’s a $30 million shortfall.
Enter Ammiano’s plan, which would generate an estimated $30 million to $40 million in employer contributions. There’s also another key piece of Ammiano’s plan that saves the one Newsom is touting: Unless Ammiano’s plan becomes law, there’s nothing to stop employers who already offer health insurance from saving money by dumping their workers into Newsom’s newly minted program, thus expanding the number of uninsured and potentially overwhelming the city’s clinics.
While Ammiano’s plan requires businesses with more than 20 employees to cover 50 percent of workers’ health care costs ($1.06 an hour), and those with more than 100 employees to cover 75 percent of those costs ($1.60 an hour), it also offers employers a wide array of health care expenditure options, including providing insurance, creating health savings accounts, or paying into the Health Access Plan.
There’s a reason for these options: the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The act prevents cities and states from specifying which health care plan employers must provide. But as Ammiano discovered, municipalities can stipulate how much employers must spend on health care.
Asked why he thinks Newsom isn’t giving Ammiano’s mandatory plan his public blessing, Ammiano waxes diplomatic.
“I asked the mayor, ‘So, what could you live with?’ and the answer was the Health Access Plan, in which everyone is covered, and there are no preexisting conditions,” Ammiano told us.
But the business community latched onto the idea as if it existed in a vacuum. Nathan Nayman of Committee on Jobs helped develop the Newsom plan but continues to slam Ammiano’s ordinance. At a Budget and Finance Committee hearing on June 26, Nayman called Ammiano’s ordinance “a full frontal assault on small and medium businesses.” But when challenged by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi over how killing the ordinance would incapacitate Newsom’s plan, Nayman suggested “putting both plans on hiatus.”
Ammiano said he’s running out of patience with Nayman and his downtown allies.
“They didn’t lift a finger except to come in at the last minute with a proposal that was neither progressive nor legally viable,” he complained, referring to an 11th-hour suggestion that businesses be charged a license fee. The fee would have fallen heavily on businesses with less than 20 employees — which don’t have to provide health insurance — and likely would have been challenged as a tax in disguise, thereby triggering a ballot.
Not that the Ammiano camp is afraid of voters. In 2004, 69 percent of San Francisco voted for Proposition 72, which would have provided employer mandated health care had it not narrowly failed statewide. So while Ammiano anticipates resistance from the business community, he isn’t expecting a “monolithic rebellion.”
“They’ve been doing their own polling, so they know if [mandatory health care spending] goes to ballot, it’ll pass, and they’ll only get much more rigid legislation,” Ammiano told us.
Ken Jacobs, who Ammiano describes as the brains behind WHSCO and who was also part of the mayor’s 37-member Universal Healthcare Council that developed SFHAP, told us WHSCO not only helps workers who don’t have health care access but also serves to stop the erosion of employer-sponsored coverage.
Jacobs — who is deputy chair of UC Berkeley’s Labor Center — said it’s important not to erode the 85 percent of SF-based businesses already providing employee health care benefits. Even Newsom’s health director, Mitch Katz, has publicly said that good health insurance is better than the access plan Newsom is touting.
Crediting San Francisco’s existing clinic system for making SFHAP conceptually possible, Jacobs noted that its estimated $200 million annual cost is based on “a fully ramped-up program in which every uninsured resident is enrolled” — something he believes won’t happen immediately.
Jacobs also points out that if employers who currently don’t offer medical benefits sign up for private insurance because of WHSCO’s mandate, their employees will no longer be uninsured, thus reducing the public system costs. He also believes that because WHSCO makes large employers spend $274 a month, it’s unlikely they’d opt for SFHAP because that plan is limited to care in San Francisco.
Conversely, SFHAP requires participants to be willing to apply for state and federal benefits. They also must pay monthly fees ranging from a nominal $3 for those earning below $19,600 to $35 for those earning between $19,600 and $40,000 to $201 a month for those earning over $50,000.
There’s also one more reason why Newsom will likely to be forced to accept the marriage with Ammiano’s plan, despite the grumbling from his business community supporters: Eight supervisors have now signed on as WHSCO cosponsors, giving it a veto-proof majority.
Newsom’s spokespeople did not return our repeated calls for comment, but Eileen Shields of the Department of Health confirmed that “Ammiano’s legislation supports making the SFHAP a reality financially.” SFBG
EDITORIAL The rate of violent crime in San Francisco, including murder, is climbing, and it’s way past unacceptable. Progressives aren’t generally known for their crime-fighting plans, but in this case the left flank of the Board of Supervisors, led by Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly, has offered a real, functional plan: an increase in community policing and additional funding for violence-prevention programs. However, Mayor Gavin Newsom and the cops are against that, and they helped knock it down on the June 6 ballot.
So what does the mayor want to do? He wants to put surveillance cameras — perhaps as many as 100 new surveillance cameras — all over the city, recording everything that happens in big swaths of public space, 24 hours a day.
The American Civil Liberties Union is urging the mayor to drop the plan. We agree.
For starters, there’s no evidence that cameras deter crime. Studies in England, where crime cameras are ubiquitous, show no decrease in criminal activity that can be linked to the cameras, and even studies in the United States suggest that criminals aren’t deterred by them. It’s possible cameras will help identify killers, particularly in neighborhoods where it’s almost impossible to find witnesses willing to talk — but it’s also possible (even likely) the bad guys will know exactly where the cameras are and either move somewhere else or wear masks.
And in exchange for this dubious benefit, San Franciscans will give up an immense amount of privacy.
We already live in a society where surveillance is an ugly fact of life. Credit card customers, grocery shoppers, cell phone and FasTrak users — almost all of us have our names and other details of our lives in electronic files, controlled by private firms and (as we’ve seen in the post–Sept. 11 era) easily accessible by government agencies.
The cameras offer such a huge potential for abuse. Will local or federal authorities use them to monitor political protests? Will they become a tracking device for people the feds consider a “threat”? Will they be used to monitor and suppress perfectly legal political activities and private associations?
No matter what the mayor and the San Francisco Police Department say, those cameras will be recording in public spaces, and those video files will exist somewhere, and even if they’re regularly erased (and given the SFPD’s record on following its own rules in other areas, we don’t trust that for a second), all it takes is a visit from the Department of Homeland Security to overrule all the safeguards. And anybody who thinks that won’t happen has been utterly out of touch with the state of the body politic in the past six years.
Another possibility the ACLU raises: Those videos could be considered public record in California — meaning stalkers, angry ex-spouses, and people planning violent crimes will have access to the daily movements of their potential victims.
The supervisors have, to their credit, tried to come up with rules to limit the potential abuses. But these sorts of technologies have a way of expanding, and law enforcement agencies have a way of avoiding oversight and scrutiny. There are much, much better ways to deter and fight violent crime. The best solution here is to simply cut the funding for the mayor’s cameras from next year’s budget. SFBG
By Steven T. Jones
The biggest heartbreak on election day — Measure A being defeated by just over 1,000 votes — should become the biggest opportunity for progressives now that this election is done. This measure was an effort to get needed funds into social programs that would deter street violence and, equally important, to get the communities of color and street-level activists most affected by this problem involved in finding solutions. Blame for this measure’s defeat falls squarely on Mayor Gavin Newsom, his four supporters on the Board of Supervisors (plus Sup. Jake McGoldrick, who was on the wrong side of this one), and the Police Officers Association (and to an unknown degree, whoever attacked and crashed the Guardian site yesterday and kept our endorsements unavailable for much of the day). It’s understandable why the POA wants to pursue only a top-down, more-cops approach to the high murder rate. But what’s unfathomable to me is why Newsom and his political allies continue to do nothing to reform a Police Department that is dysfunctional, arrogant, and understandably doesn’t have the confidence the parts of the community with which it should be working most closely.
By Tim Redmond
At City Hall
This was an excellent night for labor and tenants, and to a certain extent, for Gavin Newsom. It was a lousy night for Carole Migden, Tony Hall, Joe O’Donoghue, and Clint Reilly.
One question seemed to stand out at the San Francisco Police Commission’s May 24 meeting, where it was considering the issue of security cameras being placed in high-crime neighborhoods across the city.
"Is there a plan to phase these out at any time?" commissioner Joe Veronese asked Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who was presenting his recently proposed legislation to regulate the cameras. "Or is the idea that we just have more and more of these going up?"
Mirkarimi admitted that the idea of at some point phasing out the cameras has so far not been considered by the Board of Supervisors. He told the commission that it’s still too early to even determine how much the cameras would help in mitigating crime. But he added that some of his constituents who support the cameras "are very insistent that this not be layered with red tape."
Worried about privacy rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California wants the board to do away with the cameras completely and consider alternatives such as community policing. Even Mirkarimi compared the cameras to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which is getting closer to nonfiction. But he insisted to the commission that the cameras "are not a substitute to policing, whatsoever."
Mirkarimi would seem an unlikely proponent of the cameras. He’s one of the most progressive supervisors on the board; yet he represents a Western Addition neighborhood with growing crime problems. Mirkarimi’s aide Boris Delepine told the Guardian that the cameras were inevitable — strongly pushed by Mayor Gavin Newsom — and the supervisor was simply hoping to get some civil liberties protections in place before the program stretched across the city.
"We feel that the cameras are going up regardless," Delepine said, "and we’d like for there to be a public process when they do."
London has perhaps the largest number of citywide security cameras, with around 200,000; other industrialized cities are just beginning to debate and install them. The cameras raise real civil liberties questions, but supporters want their help with evidence gathering when witnesses are too afraid to step forward.
Since installation of the cameras began in San Francisco as a pilot program last July, the ACLU has pointed to a batch of studies it claims dispute any suggestion that the cameras elsewhere have either reduced crime or provided valuable evidence for criminal prosecutions, including in London.
"The ACLU is opposed to video surveillance cameras because they intrude on people’s privacy and they have no proven law-enforcement benefit," Elizabeth Zitrin, a board member of the ACLU’s San Francisco chapter, told the commission May 24.
Critics have acknowledged some of the protective measures that Newsom included in the original pilot program: Footage is erased after 72 hours unless it is believed to contain evidence of a crime, and where possible, cameras are not trained on individual homes. But ACLU Police Practices Policy director Mark Schlosberg told us he fears proliferation of the cameras will be impossible to stop.
"Privacy is sensitive," he said. "Once you lose it, it’s very difficult to get it back."
Indeed, commissioner Veronese’s question seemed to answer itself for the most part. Would there ever come a time in San Francisco when crime rates were so low that the city would remove the cameras in deference to civil liberties? Presumably not.
Two board committees have reviewed Mirkarimi’s legislation since it was introduced in January, but the full board recently delayed its vote until after the proposal could be considered by the Police Commission, which voiced its unanimous support May 24. The board was scheduled to vote on a first reading June 6 after Guardian press time.
Mirkarimi’s measure would require that the Police Commission hear public comment from affected residents before new groups of cameras are installed in individual neighborhoods. In addition, signs would be posted nearby to inform residents that the cameras were operating, and police inspectors would have to file a written request with the Emergency Communications Department before footage could be obtained and used as evidence of a crime.
The Office of Emergency Communications currently oversees two of the cameras, but did not know how often the Police Department has used any of the surveillance footage. The department’s Investigations Bureau could not respond to our inquiries by deadline.
Last July’s pilot program began with 2 cameras in the Western Addition. Since then, 33 more cameras have appeared at 14 locations in the Mission, Bayview, and Excelsior districts, and Newsom recently proposed the installation of around 20 more.
Mayoral spokesperson Peter Ragone said Newsom reviewed similar security camera programs in several other cities, including LA, Chicago, and New York, and insisted that case law confirms surveillance footage can be used as effective criminal evidence. He wasn’t aware of cases in San Francisco in which such evidence had been used, however.
"We asked the ACLU to sit down and help us develop guidelines for the placement and use of [the cameras],” he said. "They said no, so we went around the country and looked to other best practices for guidelines and procedures." SFBG
A simple, fair tenant bill
Legislation that would ban landlords from arbitrarily eliminating services or restricting access to common space in residential units is likely to get seven votes at the Board of Supervisors June 6th. It’s also likely to get a mayoral veto. So tenant advocates ought to be putting the pressure on Sup. Bevan Dufty, who is one of the mayor’s allies – but is also in a district where a majority of the voters are renters.
The bill, by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, would end what some tenants say is a growing practice: Landlords suddenly take away parking spaces, access to laundry facilities, or the use of storage space, in the hope that it will drive out tenants who are protected by rent control. The current law forbids evictions without “just cause” – but that provision apparently doesn’t apply to anything other than the actual place where a tenant lives.
There are all sorts of opportunities for abuse here: A landlord could evict a tenant from his or her parking or storage space, then offer to rent it back at a high price. Or those sorts of amenities could be doled out to tenants who never complain about living conditions, and withheld from tenants who try to exercise their rights. Or – most likely – a landlord desperate to get rid of a tenants who is paying below-market rent could take away every possible amenity until that tenant gives up and moves away, allowing the landlord to raise the rent for the next tenant.
The fix is simple, and won’t cost landlords any extra money. Mirarimi’s bill is just basic fairness: If you offer a garage as part of the original rental deal, you can’t suddenly take it back without a valid reason. If you include on-site laundry facilities as part of the lease, you can’t arbitrarily lock the door to the laundry room and give only certain favored tenants a key.
Dufty is up for re-election this fall, and is almost certain to face some serious opposition from the left. With three of the mayor’s four allies – Sean Ellsernd, Michela Alioto-Pier and Finoa Ma – pretty much immovable, Dufty’s been in a position to make or break legislation by being the eighth vote to make a bill veto-proof. And since Newsom has vetoed every significant piece of tenant legislation to come before him, Dufty needs to feel the heat: Is he on the side of tenants – when it matters?
This one is a great test case: The legislation is so simple and fair, it’s hard to imagine how a reasonable landlord could oppose it. Let’s see if Dufty’s willing to stand with the tenants on one that ought to be a no-brainer. Give him a call, at 554-6968.
In the early days, the mayor tried to sound like a practical, hands-on executive who was ready to run San Francisco.
Mayor Gavin Newsom used his inaugural address on Jan. 8, 2004, to emphasize that he was a uniter, not a divider — and that he wanted to get things done.
"I say it’s time to start working together to find common purpose and common ground," he proclaimed. "Because I want to make this administration about solutions."
It’s a mantra he’s returned to again and again in his rhetoric on a wide range of issues, claiming a "commonsense" approach while casting "ideology" as an evil to be overcome and as the main motive driving the left-leaning majority of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
"Because it’s easy to be against something," Newsom said on that sunny winter day. "It’s easy to blame. It’s easy to stop…. What’s hard is to hear that maybe to come together, we need to leave behind old ideas and long-held grudges. But that’s exactly what we need to do."
But if that’s the standard, Newsom has spent the past 17 months taking the easy way.
It’s been a marked change from his first-year lovefest, when he tried to legalize same-sex marriage, reach out to Bayview–Hunters Point residents, and force big hotels to end their lockout of workers.
A Guardian review of the most significant City Hall initiatives during 2005 and 2006 — as well as interviews with more than a dozen policy experts and public interest advocates — shows that Newsom has been an obstructionist who has proposed few "solutions" to the city’s problems, and followed through on even fewer.
The Board of Supervisors, in sharp contrast, has been taking the policy lead. The majority on the district-elected board in the past year has moved a generally progressive agenda designed to preserve rental units, prevent evictions, strengthen development standards, promote car-free spaces, increase affordable housing, maintain social services, and protect city workers.
Yet many of those efforts have been blocked or significantly weakened by Newsom and his closest allies on the board: Fiona Ma, Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Bevan Dufty. And on efforts to get tough with big business or prevent Muni service cuts and fare hikes, Newsom was able to peel off enough moderate supervisors to stop the progressives — led by Chris Daly, Tom Ammiano, and Ross Mirkarimi — at the board level.
But one thing that Newsom has proved himself unable to do in the past year is prevent progressive leaders — particularly Daly, against whom Newsom has a "long-held grudge" that has on a few recent occasions led to unsavory political tactics and alliances — from setting the public agenda for the city.
Balance of power
The Mayor’s Office and the Board of Supervisors are the two poles of power at City Hall — and generally the system gives a strong advantage to the mayor, who has far more resources at his disposal, a higher media profile, and the ability to act swiftly and decisively.
Yet over the past year, the three most progressive supervisors — along with their liberal-to-moderate colleagues Gerardo Sandoval, Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, and Sophie Maxwell — have initiated the most significant new city policies, dealing with housing, poverty, health care, alternative transportation, violence prevention, and campaign finance reform.
Most political observers and City Hall insiders mark the moment when the board majority took control of the city agenda as last summer, a point when Newsom’s honeymoon ended, progressives filled the leadership void on growth issues, problems like tenants evictions and the murder rate peaked, and Newsom was increasingly giving signs that he wasn’t focused on running the city.
"Gay marriage gave the mayor his edge and gave him cover for a long time," said Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a queer and tenants rights activist. "About a year ago that started to wear off, and his armor started to be shed."
Daly was the one supervisor who had been aggressively criticizing Newsom during that honeymoon period. To some, Daly seemed isolated and easy to dismiss — at least until August 2005, when Daly negotiated a high-profile deal with the developers of the Rincon Hill towers that extracted more low-income housing and community-benefits money than the city had ever seen from a commercial project.
The Newsom administration watched the negotiations from the sidelines. The mayor signed off on the deal, but within a couple months turned into a critic and said he regretted supporting it. Even downtown stalwarts like the public policy think tank San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association noted the shift in power.
"I think we saw a different cut on the issue than we’ve seen before," SPUR executive director Gabriel Metcalf told us. "Chris Daly is not a NIMBY. I see Chris Daly as one of the supervisors most able to deal with physical change, and he’s not afraid of urbanism…. And he’s been granted by the rest of the board a lot of leadership in the area of land use."
SPUR and Metcalf were critical of aspects of the Daly deal, such as where the money would go. But after the deal, Newsom and his minions, like press secretary Peter Ragone, had a harder time demonizing Daly and the board (although they never stopped trying).
Around that same time, hundreds of evictions were galvanizing the community of renters — which makes up around two-thirds of city residents. Newsom tried to find some compromise on the issue, joining Peskin to convene a task force composed of tenants activists, developers, and real estate professionals, hoping that the group could find a way to prevent evictions while expanding home ownership opportunities.
"The mayor views the striking of balance between competing interests as an important approach to governing," Ragone told the Guardian after we explained the array of policy disputes this story would cover.
The task force predictably fell apart after six meetings. "The mayor was trying to find a comfortable way to get out of the issue," said Mecca, a member of the task force. But with some issues, there simply is no comfortable solution; someone’s going to be unhappy with the outcome. "When that failed," Mecca said, "there was nowhere for him to go anymore."
The San Francisco Tenants Union and its allies decided it was time to push legislation that would protect tenants, organizing an effective campaign that finally forced Newsom into a reactionary mode. The mayor wound up siding overtly with downtown interests for the first time in his mayoral tenure — and in the process, he solidified the progressive board majority.
Housing quickly became the issue that defines differences between Newsom and the board.
"The Newsom agenda has been one of gentrification," said San Francisco Tenants Union director Ted Gullicksen. The mayor and his board allies have actively opposed placing limitations on the high number of evictions (at least until the most recent condo conversion measure, which Dufty and Newsom supported, a victory tenants activists attribute to their organizing efforts), while at the same time encouraging development patterns that "bring in more high-end condominiums and saturate the market with that," Gullicksen explained.
He pointed out that those two approaches coalesce into a doubly damaging policy on the issue of converting apartments into condominiums, which usually displace low-income San Franciscans, turn an affordable rental unit into an expensive condominium, and fill the spot with a higher-income owner.
"So you really get a two-on-one transformation of the city," Gullicksen said.
Newsom’s allies don’t agree, noting that in a city where renters outnumber homeowners two to one, some loss of rental housing is acceptable. "Rather than achieve their stated goals of protecting tenants, the real result is a barrier to home ownership," Elsbernd told us, explaining his vote against all four recent tenant-protection measures.
On the development front, Gullicksen said Newsom has actively pushed policies to develop housing that’s unaffordable to most San Franciscans — as he did with his failed Workforce Housing Initiative and some of his area plans — while maintaining an overabundance of faith in free-market forces.
"He’s very much let the market have what the market wants, which is high-end luxury housing," Gullicksen said.
As a result, Mecca said, "I think we in the tenant movement have been effective at making TICs a class issue."
Affordable housing activists say there is a marked difference between Newsom and the board majority on housing.
"The Board of Supervisors is engaged in an active pursuit of land-use policy that attempts to preserve as much affordable housing, as much rental housing, as much neighborhood-serving businesses as possible," longtime housing activist Calvin Welch told us. "And the mayor is totally and completely lining up with downtown business interests."
Welch said Newsom has shown where he stands in the appointments he makes — such as that of Republican planning commissioner Michael Antonini, and his nomination of Ted Dienstfrey to run Treasure Island, which the Rules Committee recently rejected — and by the policies he supports.
Welch called Daly’s Rincon deal "precedent setting and significant." It was so significant that downtown noticed and started pushing back.
Board power really coalesced last fall. In addition to the housing and tenant issues, Ammiano brought forward a plan that would force businesses to pay for health insurance plans for their employees. That galvanized downtown and forced Newsom to finally make good on his promise to offer his own plan to deal with the uninsured — but the mayor offered only broad policy goals, and the plan itself is still being developed.
It was in this climate that many of Newsom’s big-business supporters, including Don Fisher — the Republican founder of the Gap who regularly bankrolls conservative political causes in San Francisco — demanded and received a meeting with Newsom. The December sit-down was attended by a who’s who of downtown developers and power brokers.
"That was a result of them losing their ass on Rincon Hill," Welch said of the meeting.
The upshot — according to public records and Guardian interviews with attendees — was that Newsom agreed to oppose an ordinance designed to limit how much parking could be built along with the 10,000 housing units slated for downtown. The mayor instead would support a developer-written alternative carried by Alioto-Pier.
The measure downtown opposed was originally sponsored by Daly before being taken over by Peskin. It had the strong support of Newsom’s own planning director, Dean Macris, and was approved by the Planning Commission on a 6–1 vote (only Newsom’s Republican appointee, Antonini, was opposed).
The process that led to the board’s 7–4 approval of the measure was politically crass and embarrassing for the Mayor’s Office (see “Joining the Battle,” 2/8/06), but he kept his promise and vetoed the measure. The votes of his four allies were enough to sustain the veto.
Newsom tried to save face in the ugly saga by pledging to support a nearly identical version of the measure, but with just a couple more giveaways to developers: allowing them to build more parking garages and permitting more driveways with their projects.
Political observers say the incident weakened Newsom instead of strengthening him.
"They can’t orchestrate a move. They are only acting by vetoes, and you can’t run the city by vetoes," Welch said. "He never puts anything on the line, and that’s why the board has become so emboldened."
The Newsom administration doesn’t seem to grasp how housing issues — or symbolic issues like creating car-free spaces or being wary of land schemes like the Bayview–Hunters Point redevelopment plan — shape perceptions of other issues. As Welch said, "All politics in San Francisco center around land use."
N’Tanya Lee, executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, said the Newsom administration has done a very good job of maintaining budgetary support for programs dealing with children, youth, and their families. But advocates have relied on the leadership of progressive supervisors like Daly to push affordable housing initiatives like the $20 million budget supplemental the board initiated and approved in April.
"Our primary concern is that low- and moderate-income families are being pushed out of San Francisco," Lee told us. "We’re redefining what it means to be pro-kid and pro-family in San Francisco."
Indeed, that’s a very different approach from the so-called pro-family agenda being pushed by SFSOS and some of Newsom’s other conservative allies, who argue that keeping taxes low while keeping the streets and parks safe and clean is what families really want. But Lee worries more about ensuring that families have reasonably priced shelter.
So she and other affordable housing advocates will be watching closely this summer as the board and Newsom deal with Daly’s proposal to substantially increase the percentage of affordable housing developers must build under the city’s inclusionary-housing policy. Newsom’s downtown allies are expected to strongly oppose the plan.
Even on Newsom’s signature issue, the board has made inroads.
"In general, on the homeless issue, the supervisor who has shown the most strong and consistent leadership has been Chris Daly," said Coalition on Homelessness director Juan Prada.
Prada credits the mayor with focusing attention on the homeless issue, although he is critical of the ongoing harassment of the homeless by the Police Department and the so-called Homeward Bound program that gives homeless people one-way bus tickets out of town.
"This administration has a genuine interest in homeless issues, which the previous one didn’t have, but they’re banking too much on the Care Not Cash approach," Prada said.
Other Newsom initiatives to satisfy his downtown base of support have also fallen flat.
Robert Haaland of the city employee labor union SEIU Local 790 said Newsom has tried to reform the civil service system and privatize some city services, but has been stopped by labor and the board.
"They were trying to push a privatization agenda, and we pushed back," Haaland said, noting that Supervisor Ma’s alliance with Newsom on that issue was the reason SEIU 790 endorsed Janet Reilly over Ma in the District 12 Assembly race.
The turning point on the issue came last year, when the Newsom administration sought to privatize the security guards at the Asian Art Museum as a cost-saving measure. The effort was soundly defeated in the board’s Budget Committee.
"That was a key vote, and they lost, so I don’t think they’ll be coming back with that again," Haaland said, noting that labor has managed to win over Dufty, giving the board a veto-proof majority on privatization issues.
Who’s in charge?
Even many Newsom allies will privately grumble that Newsom isn’t engaged enough with the day-to-day politics of the city. Again and again, Newsom has seemed content to watch from the sidelines, as he did with Supervisor Mirkarimi’s proposal to create a public financing program for mayoral candidates.
"The board was out front on that, while the mayor stayed out of it until the very end," said Steven Hill, of the Center for Voting and Democracy, who was involved with the measure. And when the administration finally did weigh in, after the board had approved the plan on a veto-proof 9–2 vote, Newsom said the measure didn’t go far enough. He called for public financing for all citywide offices — but never followed up with an actual proposal.
The same has been true on police reform and violence prevention measures. Newsom promised to create a task force to look into police misconduct, to hold a blue-ribbon summit on violence prevention, and to implement a community policing system with grassroots input — and none of that has come to pass.
Then, when Daly took the lead in creating a community-based task force to develop violence prevention programs with an allocation of $10 million a year for three years — Measure A on the June ballot — Newsom and his board allies opposed the effort, arguing the money would be better spent on more cops (see “Ballot-Box Alliance,” page 19).
"He’s had bad counsel on this issue of violence all the way through," said Sharen Hewitt, who runs the Community Leadership Academy Emergency Response project. "He has not done damn near enough from his position, and neither has the board."
Hewitt worries that current city policies, particularly on housing, are leading to class polarization that could make the problems of violence worse. And while Newsom’s political allies tend to widen the class divide, she can’t bring herself to condemn the mayor: "I think he’s a nice guy and a lot smarter than people have given him credit for."
Tom Radulovich, who sits on the BART board and serves as executive director of Transportation for a Livable City (which is in the process of changing its name to Livable City), said Newsom generally hasn’t put much action behind his rhetorical support for the environment and transit-first policies.
"Everyone says they’re pro-environment," he said.
In particular, Radulovich was frustrated by Newsom’s vetoes of the downtown parking and Healthy Saturdays measures and two renter-protection measures. The four measures indicated very different agendas pursued by Newsom and the board majority.
In general, Radulovich often finds his smart-growth priorities opposed by Newsom’s allies. "The moneyed interests usually line up against livable city, good planning policies," he said. On the board, Radulovich said it’s no surprise that the three supervisors from the wealthiest parts of town — Ma, Elsbernd, and Alioto-Pier — generally vote against initiatives he supports.
"Dufty is the oddity because he represents a pretty progressive, urbane district," Radulovich said, "but he tends to vote like he’s from a more conservative district."
The recent lawsuit by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Committee of Jobs — urging more aggressive use of a voter-approved requirement that board legislation undergo a detailed economic analysis — shows that downtown is spoiling for a fight (see “Downtown’s ‘Hail Mary’ Lawsuit,” page 9). So politics in City Hall is likely to heat up.
"There is a real absence of vision and leadership in the city right now, particularly on the question of who will be able to afford to live in San Francisco 20 years from now," Mirkarimi said. "There is a disparity between Newsom hitting the right notes in what the press and public want to hear and between the policy considerations that will put those positions into effect."
But Newsom’s allies say they plan to stand firm against the ongoing effort by progressives to set the agenda.
"I think I am voting my constituency," Elsbernd said. "I’m voting District Seven and voicing a perspective of a large part of the city that the progressive majority doesn’t represent."
Newsom flack Ragone doesn’t accept most of the narratives that are laid out by activists, from last year’s flip in the balance of power to the influence of downtown and Newsom’s wealthy benefactors on his decision to veto four measures this year.
"Governing a city like San Francisco is complex. There are many areas of nuance in governing this city," Ragone said. "Everyone knows Gavin Newsom defies traditional labels. That’s not part of a broad political strategy, but just how he governs."
Yet the majority of the board seems unafraid to declare where they stand on the most divisive issues facing the city.
"The board has — really, since the 2000 election — has been pushing a progressive set of policies as it related to housing, just-taxation policies, and an array of social service provisions," Peskin said. "All come with some level of controversy, because none are free." SFBG
Maggie Agnew knows more about gun violence than anyone should ever have to know. Three of her children have been murdered since 1986, all of them during altercations that involved guns.
The church she attends has done all it can to help her and other parents of homicide victims. But not everyone attends church, she says. More needs to be done.
That’s why she — along with three other women affected by the city’s epidemic of violence — has signed her name to Proposition A, a June ballot measure authored by Sup. Chris Daly.
Prop. A would allocate $10 million a year for homicide-prevention services from the city’s General Fund for each of the next three years.
It would also create a survivors’ fund in the District Attorney’s Office to assist with burial expenses and counseling.
Agnew says that it’s a good start.
"There are so many parents who are like me; they can barely have a funeral and bury their children," Agnew told the Guardian recently. "You’re left with big bills, heartache, and pain. If you don’t have support, you’re out in the cold."
The Prop. A campaign is about more than just the relatively modest $10 million. Progressives and communities of color have begun to build an alliance around the measure that hasn’t always existed in the past — which is a polite way of referring to the left’s sometime failure to address problems afflicting minority communities.
The San Francisco Peoples’ Organization, PowerPAC, and two past presidents of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club have appeared as supporters in election literature, along with Agnew, Betty Cooper, Kechette Walls Powell, and Mattie Scott, four women who have lost relatives to homicide. The effort began earlier this year as the board debated making supplemental appropriations from surplus budget money for similar support services after the city’s homicide rate approached the triple digits.
Sharen Hewitt, director of the Community Leadership Academy Emergency Response project, said the alliance is a small step in the right direction.
"It ain’t been no lovefest," she said frankly. "I am a progressive, as you know. But my community has been dropping dead in the street, and we’ve been focused on bike lanes…. We came together with a struggle."
Hewitt said the proposition allows for a considerable amount of flexibility: Money will go to the neighborhoods most affected by homicide, not simply those presumed to be in the most need. Overall, she said, the city has relied too much on the police, and the symptoms of violence, such as poverty, still need to be addressed.
"We have to be candid with each other, so we can form a real progressive agenda and not leave anyone behind," Hewitt said.
Prop. A is not without its critics. Sups. Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Jake McGoldrick and Mayor Gavin Newsom all oppose it.
San Francisco is already struggling to abide by a charter mandate that requires the city to maintain a force of at least 1,971 police officers at all times, critics complain. Newsom and his allies on the board believe hiring new cops is more important than what the ballot measure proposes.
Elsbernd told us he’s also opposed to Prop. A because it locks in yet more budget requirements, when supplemental appropriations could be used to keep control in the hands of board members.
"My concern is it’s a set-aside," he said. "It binds the hands of the executive and legislative branches…. This is ballot-box budgeting."
Money from Prop. A would target areas with high rates of violence by focusing services on job creation and workforce training, conflict resolution, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and probation and witness relocation services. The measure would also form an 11-member community planning council charged with drafting and revising an annual homicide-prevention plan.
PowerPAC president Steve Phillips agrees with the other Prop. A proponents that the police approach hasn’t been sufficient, and says progressives and minorities need to show more allied leadership to promote better answers.
"There’s been an epidemic of violence that the city’s been unable to address," he said. "We wanted to give money to those communities most impacted by violence." SFBG
EDITORIAL This one is way over the top: The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Committee on Jobs filed suit last week against the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, alleging that the supes won’t implement Proposition I, the 2004 ballot measure that was aimed at derailing progressive legislation. The suit makes little legal sense: The downtown crew is demanding that the city do something that it’s already doing, for the most part. But it shows an aggressive new strategy on the part of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s allies, who are out to scuttle three important bills that will probably win board approval.
Prop. I was designed to do two things: Delay anything that downtown might consider "antibusiness" and promote the political fortunes of Michela Alioto-Pier, who authored the ballot measure. The idea: Create an Office of Economic Analysis, under the city controller, with the responsibility to do an "economic impact analysis" of any legislation that comes before the board. Of course, that economic impact analysis will by definition be fairly narrowly focused; it won’t consider the social impacts or consequences of decisions.
That was always the flaw in Prop. I, and that was the reason we opposed the measure. Economic impact studies that show only how much a proposal would cost or how it might harm the "business climate" ignore the fact that a lot of government regulation improves things that aren’t quantifiable. And even when they can be measured, certain effects are ignored: Clean air has a tremendous value — but typical studies of antipollution measures focus only on the costs of compliance. Safe streets, nice parks, and good schools are worth a fortune — but a study that examines the tax burden required to pay for them won’t account for that.
Downtown spent a fortune promoting the measure (and sending out colorful flyers with Alioto-Pier’s face on them, which didn’t hurt her reelection efforts). It narrowly passed — but since Alioto-Pier never put in a request for the additional money the plan would cost, it took an entire city budget cycle to fund and hire the two staff economists who will do the work.
Now, for better or for worse, they’re on board, and the analyses are beginning — but downtown isn’t satisfied. Chamber spokesperson Carol Piasente told us the group wants to eliminate any board discretion in deciding what needs analysis and what doesn’t; right now, the board president can waive the analysis on relatively trivial things like resolutions and appointments.
But what’s really going on, according to Sup. Chris Daly, is that downtown is gearing up for a full-scale attack on three bills: Sup. Tom Ammiano’s proposal to require employers to pay for health care; Sup. Sophie Maxwell’s plan to better enforce the minimum wage laws; and Daly’s proposal to require additional affordable housing in all market-rate developments. "Downtown’s hail mary pass involves using the economic analysis to kill these socially critical proposals," Daly wrote in his blog.
Oh, and while the chamber is always worried about city spending, the group’s lawyer, Jim Sutton, is asking for attorney’s fees (likely to be a big, fat chunk of taxpayer change) if the suit prevails.
This is ridiculous. City Attorney Dennis Herrera needs to defend this aggressively, but that’s only the legal side. The mayor, who has become ever more closely allied with these downtown forces (see page 11), ought to join the supervisors in publicly denouncing the suit. SFBG
EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom made a weak attempt to deal with the political fallout from the Office of Emergency Services audit last week, appointing Laura Phillips, who appears to have some qualifications for the job, as the head of emergency communications.
But Newsom refuses to follow the most important recommendation from the scathing audit. OES director Annemarie Conroy still has her job.
It’s more than a little bit unsettling: Newsom, who claims to be a competent manager, is sticking with Conroy, the Donald Rumsfeld of San Francisco, an incompetent political crony who won the job only as part of a stupid and transparently political deal.
The audit, by Board of Supervisors budget analyst Harvey Rose, shows why this sort of political chess game is such a bad idea. Conroy, who had no credentials whatsoever for the top disaster planning job, has, not surprisingly, fared poorly. Her office, the audit says, is larded with top management — a full 40 percent of her staff are at the highly paid management level, which Rose called "unacceptable" — while little of the $82 million it’s received in federal and state grants has gone to emergency training. Conroy has bungled efforts at coordinating disaster planning with other departments and hasn’t even applied for federal reimbursement for some $7.6 million that the city is owed.
Conroy, a lawyer and former supervisor, got the $170,000-a-year job largely because Newsom wanted to get Tony Hall off the Board of Supervisors. So he offered Hall a plum job running the Treasure Island Development Authority — but since Conroy was already in that job, Newsom had to move her someplace else, and he chose emergency services. The problem is, this is no sleepy bureaucratic backwater where a hack can rest on a nice salary for a few years without doing any real damage. The OES handles a huge amount of money and is responsible for getting the city ready for things like a major earthquake, which every scientist agrees is overdue, or a terrorist attack, which is certainly not outside the realm of possibility.
This was the sort of game former mayor Willie Brown played all the time, shuffling political allies around to agencies and commissions without much regard for the public policy impact. Newsom promised to do better, but the fact that he’s still standing behind Conroy is evidence that he’s letting old-fashioned politics get in the way of running the city.
Let’s face it: Annemarie Conroy should never have been appointed to the OES and clearly isn’t up to the job. Rose recommends abolishing her position and letting the new head of emergency communications run the whole show. That seems like an excellent idea. SFBG
The gluttonous Willie Brown era lead to a city workforce of mangers who earned princely salaries in exchange for their political loyalty, but appeared to have little in the way of clear job responsibilities.
The cries for reform from auditors and other watchdogs eventually fueled the creation of a Management Classification and Compensation Plan designed to both streamline the city’s hiring process and trim a top-heavy class of department managers.
The process has been slow and complex, to put it lightly. But one way to measure its effectiveness so far may be to consider the complaints coming from political hacks bitter about losing status on the city’s totem pole.
In April, the Guardian reported that former board supervisor Bill Maher, now a “regulatory affairs manager” at the San Francisco International Airport, seemed to have difficulty showing up for work even half the time, according to documents we’d obtained that tracked his usage of a complimentary airport parking card included in his compensation package.
Maher was a Willie Brown political ally who earned his $95,000-a-year post at the airport in 1998 under the former mayor. Since then, he’s managed to hang on to the job and sail through more $30,000 in raises, to $128,000, despite a dubious job description.
But when the human resources department set its sights on Maher’s job through an MCCP review, he was knocked back from a Manager V position to Manager III in early 2004.
Maher shouldn’t have had much to complain about; the change did not affect his current salary. But the change did affect his eligibility for certain types of pay raises in the future, so Maher lashed out, warning MCCP Team Coordinator Robert Pritchard in an April 2004 letter that he planned to appeal the decision to the Civil Service Commission. In the letter, Maher valiantly made a renewed attempt to describe exactly what it is that he does for the airport:
“Reporting directly to the airport director, this position serves as a political consultant/advisor to the Airport Director regarding the political climate and assists the Director in the overall management, planning and coordination of highly political, sensitive and politically visible projects as assigned.”
Apparently, the position wasn’t “political” enough, because after further review, Pritchard recommended to the commission earlier this month that Maher’s appeal be denied. According to Pritchard’s findings, “ …the position has no supervisory or budgetary responsibilities typical of the higher level classes.”
As it happens, the city’s budget analyst, Harvey Rose, agreed Maher’s duties seemed vague at best, because he recently made the preliminary recommendation that Maher’s job be eliminated entirely. According to a May 22 report from Rose’s office, the decision was based on “the lack of workload and deliverables information, the duplicative nature of the position’s functions, and the position’s high cost …” (Rose’s final budget recommendations won’t be finished until June 5.)
The Guardian also reported in April that management excess appeared to exist elsewhere at the airport. We noted that sources of ours had complained about the airport’s International Economic and Tourism Development Director, a post created for the politically well-connected Bill Lee under Gavin Newsom after the mayor removed Lee from his job as city manager. (The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier & Ross have published versions of this story as well.)
Lee’s salary and mandatory fringe benefits, including a city car, cost taxpayers nearly $186,000 a year. His job, according to Rose’s report, is to “support international business growth.” But the airport never provided to Rose data that proved Lee had inspired any growth in international cargo or passengers. Rose, subsequently, made the preliminary recommendation that Lee’s position also be eliminated by late September “based on the lack of quantifiable economic benefits and cost savings associated with this position …”
No one at the airport’s Bureau of Community Affairs was available to comment on either Lee or Maher’s positions. But in April, Lee disputed any suggestion that his job was merely a “soft landing,” and insisted that he’s continuing to establish new business relationships between the city and key Asian countries.
Airport Spokesman Michael McCarron also told us in April that Maher spends much of his time off site “reviewing and attending appropriate board, commission and regulatory meetings.”
As part of his explanation, McCarron added at the time, “It is important for the airport to be aware of community sentiment that may impact the airport and the regulatory climate within in [sic] which it must exist.”
Clear as a bell.
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
OPINION For more than a decade, the oil industry and environmentalists have fought over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.
At the same time, polarizing debate has raged in San Francisco over automobiles in Golden Gate Park, with the proposed car-free Saturday on JFK Drive as the latest iteration.
While ANWR is a long way from San Francisco, that fight has a lot in common with the debate over car-free Saturdays. Both the ANWR and car-free Saturday debates include an enormous expenditure of political capital to confront or defend a lifestyle based on unlimited use of personal cars. And while Gavin Newsom’s veto of car-free Saturday legislation tells us a lot about our ambitious mayor, it also gives us a lens into what he might be like as a future US Senator voting on ANWR drilling.
In ANWR, the debate is whether wilderness should be opened to drilling in order to wean the nation from foreign oil and to save American motorists from inconvenient gas price increases. In short, it is about accommodating a way of life centered on unlimited personal car use — instead of reducing our need for oil by switching to compact urbanism, mass transit, walking, and bicycling.
In Golden Gate Park, the debate centers on a way of life based on unfettered free parking and high-speed "cut-thru" streets like JFK Drive, versus a way of life that reduces car dependency and celebrates urbanism and nature at the same time. While the city and its mayor promote a green image, a small group of wealthy interests maintain that cars simply have to be a central part of our lives and a primary means of transportation, particularly in cities. Moreover, they envision the car-free Saturdays as a dangerous step toward other citywide proposals, such as reducing the space for cars on the streets to prioritize mass transit and bicycles, or perhaps restricting cars on Market Street. Those are the real stakes in this debate.
Like forbidding drilling in ANWR, restricting cars in parts of Golden Gate Park would symbolize a victory for a specific vision centered on reducing the role of automobiles in everyday life.
It is difficult to know how Gavin Newsom would vote on ANWR if he were elected to the US Senate — a position for which he is no doubt being groomed — upon the retirement of Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But in light of his veto of car-free Saturdays, it is worth pondering that with this veto Newsom reveals he could be persuaded to come down on the wrong side in one of America’s most controversial environmental debates, and support drilling in Alaska.
Imagine that 10 years from now, oil prices and global conflict over oil have intensified. A delusional motoring public in California demands relief from its senator (who as mayor did very little to truthfully address problems of automobile dependency in San Francisco). Republicans will be pointing at the offshore oil in California, and Newsom, a Democrat having just been elected to replace the retired Feinstein, will be challenged to provide relief. Would Newsom, out of desperation, support drilling in ANWR to avoid drilling in California?
Actions speak louder than words, and what Newsom has done this week is to set San Francisco up for another decade of automobile dependency without offering any viable alternative. SFBG
Jason Henderson is an assistant professor of geography at San Francisco State University.
On a Sunday afternoon, the Cala Foods at Stanyan and Haight is a dismal sight. Thrifty shoppers, beckoned by the 60–70 percent off price tags walk out into the drizzle, empty-handed. The doors close permanently May 24, and there isn’t much left.
The owner of the building, Mark Brennan, plans to demolish the place, and is negotiating with Whole Foods — the fast-growing organic food chain — to build a new store on the site. Some Haight neighbors are looking forward to the organic option, but many are scowling about the potential for increased traffic in the foot-friendly hood — and the fact that Whole Foods is known for high-end products with high-end prices. They refer to the store as "Whole Paycheck."
According to plans, the 28,000-square-foot store will be capped with 62 residential units, seven below market rate, and will sit on three levels of underground parking, tripling the current number of spaces. It will also be the westernmost Whole Foods location in the city, potentially drawing traffic eastward through the park.
"We talked briefly with Trader Joe’s and Rainbow Grocery, and sent a letter to Berkeley Bowl," Brennan told the Guardian. "Whole Foods is the only one willing to wait for development."
The construction is expected to take up to five years, so those in need of a local supermarket will be hard up for a while. "I’m very worried about the old ladies," said Spencer Cumbs, who’s worked at the Cala location for 11 years and often delivers groceries for the more infirm. "Where are they going to shop?" He tells them to visit him at the Cala on California and Hyde, where he’s been transferred, but that’s a long bus ride. There’s no other full-service supermarket in the area.
Like any chain store moving into a neighborhood, Whole Foods could hurt small local businesses, like Haight Street Market, an organic grocery started 25 years ago by Gus and Dmitri Vardakastanis and currently managed by the third generation of the family, Bobby Vardakastanis. "I don’t know if the neighborhood could support it," Bobby told us. "But we have a lot of loyal customers who don’t want to see us get hurt."
Fresh Organics, on the corner of Stanyan and Carl, is also optimally situated to take a hit. "This place rocks," said Erik Christoffersen, with his daughter strapped to his back and arms full of local produce. But he confesses he’d shop at Whole Foods too. "They don’t get meats and fish," he says of the local corner store. A recent Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council meeting on the future of the site drew some 80 residents. According to Calvin Welch, HANC’s housing and land use chair, the major concerns were that Whole Foods is too high-end and, he included, that "people would prefer a unionized grocery store like Cala."
The union issue is huge all over California, where unionized grocery stores are trying to compete against giant nonunion competitors like Wal-Mart. And the San Francisco supervisors are trying to give locals a degree of protection.
A new Grocery Worker’s Retention Ordinance, signed into law by Mayor Newsom on May 12, mandates a 90-day period of continued employment for grocery workers when retail stores larger than 15,000 square feet change hands. It would benefit workers at union stores, like Cala, that are replaced by nonunion retailers, like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
Sup. Fiona Ma, who introduced the measure, was inspired by a meeting with employees facing potential job losses due to new ownership at three Albertson’s stores in the city, Bill Barnes, an aide to Ma, told us. An endorsement of her run for State Assembly from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 648, which advocated for the ordinance, was probably pretty inspiring as well.
Still, the bill comes too late to help the Cala workers. Employees at the Haight Ashbury store have been transferred to other locations, while ten workers trumped by their seniority have been laid off. SFBG
When the head of the city’s police union, Gary Delagnes, appeared before the San Francisco Police Commission May 10, he told a story based on his recent lunch with Boston’s former top cop, Kathleen O’Toole.
"We talked about the similarities between San Francisco and Boston and the similar problems that we have," Delagnes recounted. "Commissioner O’Toole said to me, ‘Gary, you have one problem, hopefully, I won’t ever have to worry about, and that’s the OCC.’”
She was referring to San Francisco’s Office of Citizen Complaints, the watchdog agency that accepts and investigates allegations of police misconduct. Delagnes and others in the 2,200-member San Francisco Police Officers Association rarely conceal their disdain for the OCC and have regularly attacked it in the past.
But OCC officials say the cop union will always have it in for them, simply because they’re good at what they do: holding officers accountable for their actions.
No news outlet in town started the year without at least one major story noting the slow pace of homicide investigations and the city’s persistently high murder rate. A series of stories published by the San Francisco Chronicle in February that were critical of the police department’s use of force against civilians led to citywide calls for reform. And a satirical video made by an officer late last year that appeared, at the very least, latently racist and homophobic drew the wrath of the mayor.
Despite the department’s troubles, however, Delagnes seems interested in attacking the OCC for reminding residents that they have the right to report bad police behavior.
In a letter to the commission written May 10, Delagnes claimed the agency had "apparently been soliciting certain members of the community to file complaints against San Francisco police officers." Setting his sights on the OCC’s lead prosecutor, Susan Leff, he fumed that her "outreach" had called into question her ability to conduct an objective analysis of any personnel matter involving San Francisco police officers."
"We find such behavior on the part of the attorney responsible for prosecuting police officers in this city reprehensible if not downright scandalous," Delagnes wrote.
Attached to the letter was an e-mail from Leff that Delagnes claimed proves his charges. The message, sent out late last September, was a response from Leff to a community member inquiring about what could be done to address an unidentified incident involving alleged infractions by a group of officers.
"I am very concerned about taking a complaint as soon as possible, so that the witness’ memories of what they saw do not begin to fade," Leff wrote in the e-mail. "You or anyone else could file an anonymous complaint so we could start investigating."
There doesn’t appear to be anything illegal about this, and OCC Director Kevin Allen argued as much in a letter to the commission the very next day. But the POA has never liked anonymous complaints, and in his letter, Delagnes demanded that Leff be placed on leave until the city attorney and police commission conduct a full investigation.
"I don’t think there’s going to be an investigation," Allen later told the Guardian. "I don’t think the city attorney works for Mr. Delagnes." Asked whether Leff would be placed on leave, Allen responded, "Please. This agency supports Susan Leff, and she will continue as our litigator."
Allen stated in his response letter to the commission that Leff’s effectiveness at doing what the OCC was formed to do had made her a target "for those POA members who believe that no officer — no matter how egregious his or her misconduct — should be disciplined."
"The POA has long engaged in these thug-like tactics to undermine and intimidate the OCC," Allen’s letter reads. "I have personally been subject to their attacks, as have members of the Police Commission. I will not tolerate these attacks on OCC employees."
The commission essentially agreed, because a week later it appeared to reject the complaint and chided the POA for leveling a personal charge at Leff and the OCC in the first place. The City Attorney’s Office told us that so far, no city officials have requested an investigation.
With police officers experiencing so much uncomfortable scrutiny right now, the timing of Delagnes’s letter looks terribly convenient.
Partly as a response to the Chronicle stories and a resulting vow to "run roughshod" over the department made by Mayor Newsom, the police department recently began drafting a new Early Intervention System designed to identify disturbing patterns of police misconduct among problem officers. Early last month, the OCC noted "several glaring weaknesses" in the department’s current EIS draft.
Publicly, the POA insists the group is not opposed to the idea of civilian oversight. But comparing San Francisco’s cop-watch agency to other such offices around the country, POA spokesman Steve Johnson told us in a phone interview, "I know no other agency that has as much power as they do."
"There’s a real problem with the process itself," he complained.
Further, just as Delagnes submitted his letter to the commission, the POA was buoyed by a San Francisco judge’s ruling, handed down in early May, in a lawsuit filed by four police officers against the OCC. The OCC had charged the four officers with wrongdoing after a suspect was shot and killed during a May 2004 car chase. The court tossed the charges against the officers, citing an administrative mistake on the part of the OCC. But the judge made clear that the OCC could still file new charges against the four cops.
In the wake of the decision, Johnson told us that the POA was looking to discuss changes to OCC procedure during an upcoming law enforcement summit organized by former police chief Tony Ribera and former mayor Frank Jordan scheduled to be held at the University of San Francisco.
Formed as the result of a ballot measure passed by voters in 1983, the OCC is one of the few citizen-review entities in the United States with the power to subpoena officers. But otherwise, it simply investigates complaints and determines whether to sustain them. Only the chief of police and the police commission can file actual charges or exact disciplinary measures against officers.
Anonymous complaints, which the POA has long decried, cannot be sustained without additional evidence. And under the state’s Peace Officers Bill of Rights, details of complaints and investigations are not publicly accessible unless they make it all the way to the police commission. Between January and September of last year, 55 cases were sustained, but the OCC has hundreds of pending cases.
Up to three years before the Chron stories, the Northern California Chapter of the ACLU, the City Controller’s Office, the Guardian, and the OCC had called on the police department to implement new best practices policies instituted in other cities. But the department reacted slowly, at least until victims of police brutality began appearing in broad snapshots across the pages of the city’s largest daily newspaper for several days in a row.
OCC director Allen maintains that Delagnes and the POA were too eager to protest the agency.
"It concerns me that the POA didn’t act in a diligent manner to find all the facts," he told us. "They acted a little impulsively." SFBG
EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom showed a colossal lack of political courage May 15 when he bowed to pressure from a few rich socialites and vetoed a program that would expand one of the city’s most popular and successful recreation programs.
Newsom, apparently changing course at the last minute, rejected a Board of Supervisors plan to close a section of roadway in Golden Gate Park on Saturdays. The six-month trial program would expand on the existing Sunday closure, which brings thousands of walkers, bikers, and roller skaters — and yes, fans of the De Young Museum — to the park to enjoy a rare car-free urban experience.
As of last week, Newsom insiders were telling us the mayor had decided to sign the legislation. But Dede Wilsey, a wealthy patron of the museum, was pushing hard to block the proposal. On May 9, the San Francisco Chronicle weighed in on the side of the museum, running a misleading editorial accusing the supervisors of defying a vote of the people and giving Newsom more cover for a move that will undermine his national image as an environmentalist.
In his veto letter, Newsom argues that the issue needs further study — though that’s exactly what this plan would be: a six-month study period. And, like the Chronicle, he insists that the voters have spoken on this issue — as if a pair of confusing ballot measures that were all tied up with the museum and the garage six years ago should be the final word on this issue. He also calls it "divisive" — meaning, presumably, that unless Dede Wilsey and the museum crowd like something, the mayor can’t be a leader and take a stand.
The whole thing shouldn’t be difficult. The De Young’s board has argued that closed roads mean smaller crowds, but the museum’s own figures show that’s untrue (see "Dede Wilsey’s Whoppers," 4/19/06). Museum attendance on Sunday, when the roads are closed, is higher than on Saturday, when cars clog the area. (With so many people flocking to that part of the park, it’s no surprise some of them decide to stop by the museum.) Besides, when the museum won permission to build an underground parking garage in the park, garage supporters, including financier Warren Hellman, promised that the added car access would make it possible to close the roads on Saturdays — and today, to his credit, he’s arguing in favor of the plan.
In New York City, which is even more congested than San Francisco and has far worse parking problems, a Republican mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has managed to close roads in Central Park not only on Saturdays but also on weekdays.
It’s too late to change Newsom’s mind, but the supervisors can still override the veto. One of the four who voted against the plan will have to switch to get the eighth vote for an override, and the most likely candidate is Bevan Dufty, whose district includes plenty of road-closure enthusiasts and who is up for reelection this fall. Call him (415-554-6968) — and don’t let him wriggle out of this one. SFBG
OPINION Homelessness was recently put on trial in California. It was found not guilty.
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declared April 14 that the city of Los Angeles can’t arrest those who have no choice but to sleep on its streets. It’s a victory for those of us who believe that homelessness is not a crime, but a symptom of an unjust economic system.
At issue in the LA case was a 37-year-old law prohibiting sitting, lying, and sleeping on the sidewalks. Six homeless folks brought the complaint in 2003 with the aid of the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild.
In her ruling against the statute, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote: "Because there is substantial and undisputed evidence that the number of homeless persons in Los Angeles far exceeds the number of available shelter beds at all times," the city is guilty of criminalizing people who engage in "the unavoidable act of sitting, lying, or sleeping at night while being involuntarily homeless." She termed this criminalization "cruel and unusual" punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution.
Her enlightened opinion should guide public policy everywhere, especially here in San Francisco. In our "progressive" city, we have gay weddings at City Hall and an annual S-M street fair, yet our views on the homeless are as 19th century as the rest of the country’s opinions on gay marriage and kinky sex. The majority of voting people here still favor the old-fashioned method of punishing the poor and the homeless. That’s how Care Not Cash and our current antipanhandling measure managed to become law.
According to Religious Witness with the Homeless, in the first 22 months of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s administration, San Francisco police issued 1,860 citations for panhandling and sleeping on the sidewalks, as well as 11,000 "quality of life" tickets. That’s more than were issued under former mayor Willie Brown in a similar time period. How many officers did it take to issue those citations? How much money did it cost the city? What better things could San Francisco have done with the money to actually help those who were cited? How many of the people cited are now in permanent affordable housing with access to services they need to put their lives back together?
Homelessness can’t be eradicated with punitive measures. Addressing homelessness in America doesn’t mean sweeping the poor out of sight of tourists or upscale neighbors. It doesn’t mean taking away the possessions of homeless folks or fining people for sleeping in their cars. It means addressing the basic social inequities that create homelessness, among them low-paying jobs, the immorally high cost of housing, and the prohibitive price of health care.
It means having drug and mental health treatment for those who need it when they need it.
That’s the real message behind Wardlaw’s ruling.<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>
Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical, working-class, queer, southern Italian activist, performer, and writer.
Back when the tsunami of condo conversions now rolling across San Francisco was but a ripple on the rental pool, local resident William Johnston didn’t know "the ins and outs of the Ellis Act."
"Now I have a Ph.D. in it," jokes Johnston, 70, about the legislation allowing landlords to get out of the rental market, which has been increasingly abused over the past decade by landlords wishing to sell their buildings in a scheme known as tenancy-in-common.
Under the TIC system, tenants share the same mortgage but live in their own unit, which they usually hope to convert to an individually owned condo. And it was a letter proposing a TIC in the 10-unit rent-controlled building where Johnston has lived for 33 years that finally got the feisty septuagenarian to start learning about the Ellis Act in detail.
"That letter scared the crap out of me," says Johnston, who was shocked when a real estate agent claimed that the one-bedroom unit, for which Johnston pays $512 a month, would fetch half a million dollars if it were converted into a condo … if only Johnston could pony up $90,000 for a down payment.
Johnston was relieved when none of his fellow tenants took his landlord’s TIC bait, but they’re all worried the landlord plans to put the building up for sale anyway. So he’s closely following the latest chapter in the Board of Supervisors’ effort to protect renters like him.
On May 9 the board gave an initial 7–3 approval to a measure that would prevent condo conversions in buildings where seniors, the disabled, the catastrophically ill, or multiple tenants have been evicted.
Three previous board efforts to help tenants have been vetoed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, so Sup. Aaron Peskin heeded input from the Mayor’s Office and amended the measure to move the cutoff date for considering evictions from Jan. 1, 1999, to May 1, 2005.
That change, and the fact that he’d been getting public pressure from renters, apparently won the support of Sup. Bevan Dufty, who had voted to uphold Newsom’s vetoes of the previous renter measures. But with Sup. Ross Mirkarimi forced to abstain because he owns a TIC, the board is still left one vote shy of being able to override a veto.
The date change could affect renters like Debra Hutzer, who is disabled by thyroid problems and whose eviction papers were filed January 2005, forcing her to move on May 13, 2006, from the rent-controlled apartment on Church Street where she’s lived for 19 years to a place where she’s already paying $250 more a month.
"It’s been very disconcerting," says Hutzer of the eviction, which one of her neighbors, Carole Fanning, may now fight. Fanning is also supposed to leave, but she’s now hired an attorney to fight for "a stay of execution" that would allow her to remain in her rent-controlled unit.
"It’s possible, since seniors, disabled, and the catastrophically ill have one year from the date their eviction notice was served, that some may yet be able to convince landlords not to proceed," Peskin board aide David Owen told us.
As for the watering down of Peskin’s original measure, Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union says the alternative was to put a version backdated to November 2004 on the November ballot — a strategy that would have involved taking risks on an initiative that, even if it had passed, wouldn’t have gone into law until January 2007.
"Instead we have a measure that’s acceptable and has passed its first reading, which means tenants should be protected in another week," Gullicksen says. Peskin’s other amendment allows buildings with multiple evictions — but not those involving the elderly or disabled — to be eligible for condo conversions after 10 years. "This means those buildings get taken off the speculative real estate market," Gullicksen adds. SFBG
There was a period in the early to mid-’80s when Dieselhed absolutely ruled the San Francisco music scene. Like the previous generation’s Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 or Primus, or maybe today’s Joanna Newsom or Deerhoof, fans enthusiastically lined up to catch the popular quintet every time the group played. To see Dieselhed once was to love them forever. You’ve got that chance, as they’re re-forming for one night at this year’s Mission Creek Music Festival.
What made them so fucking great? For starters, the music: crashing cow-punk guitars alternating with twangy tearjerkers and, over it all, Virgil Shaw’s and Zac Holtzman’s sweet, incandescent harmonies. Dieselhed was a band with a fully formed aesthetic whose keenly observed stories (and all their songs told stories) wheeled out quintessentially quotidian Northern Californian lives: dreaming of a world beyond Humboldt County, summers spent working on fishing boats in Alaska, weddings on the Hornblower, buying titty mags at the 7-Eleven, touring Sonoma Valley small towns and playing breweries, the guy who makes the hash browns at the local greasy spoon.
It was easy to imagine they were singing about you, and sometimes they were: Dieselhed’s number one fan was always the taxi dispatcher and perpetually tipsy Corinne, and, heck, they wrote a song about her: "Corrine Corrine/ Look at you spin / You’ve got me in a half nelson." The shit was funny — because it was so real — to everyone, including the characters they sang about in their songs: the girl who whispers into her poodle’s ear, the waitress at the truck stop, the guy studying for the forklift operator’s exam.
The band was wonderfully inclusive: Sing-alongs quickly came to include audience-participatory gestures, like the big O-shaped upstretched arms we all flew to represent the diamond ring in "The Wedding Song." Shaw’s then-adolescent sisters, who were budding songwriters in their own right, made guest appearances.
In another example of Dieselhed’s absolute command of who they were and what they meant, there were the improv numbers that charted their growing popularity and the changes in their lives. In "Someday We Won’t Be a Band," each member took to the mic to weave an always different story of what someone else in the group would be doing years hence. What will that tune sound like this time around? It’s guaranteed to have us laughing and crying.
The main thing is this: Dieselhed will always be relevant, and they never fucking lost it. Shaw’s now an acclaimed solo act. Holtzman formed the Cambodian pop group Dengue Fever and is licensed in Chinese medicine. Drummer Danny Heifetz up and moved to Australia. And I can’t wait to hear what bassist Atom Ellis and guitarist Shon McAllin are up to. "Someday we won’t be a band," Dieselhed sang, "but for now, we totally exist!" SFBG
With Fantasy, Sonny Smith, and Marc Capelle
May 21, 8 p.m.
2565 Mission, SF
$10 advance, $12 door
EDITORIAL The goal of San Francisco’s energy policy ought to be to remove all private interests from the generation, distribution, and sale of electric power, and the fastest way to get there is to condemn, buy out, and municipalize Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s local grid. But community-choice aggregation — a system under which the city acts as the equivalent of a buyer’s cooperative and purchases power in bulk to resell at a discount to consumers — is a good first step.
Even Mayor Gavin Newsom seems to realize that. Under pressure from CCA advocates, including Sup. Tom Ammiano, Newsom has earmarked $5 million in his next budget to begin implementing an aggregation system that the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), under chair Ross Mirkarimi, has been putting together.
Now it seems the last roadblock is the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, whose members suddenly and unexpectedly had issues with the budget allocation when it came up a couple of weeks ago. They wanted more information. They wanted to hold hearings. We understand their concerns — CCA is complex and important, and it has to be done right.
But the SFPUC should have been the lead agency pushing for public power years ago. The commissioners should have been holding hearings long ago — on the high costs of PG&E power, on the city’s legal mandate to run a public-power system, and on the value of CCA. They should have been pushing the mayor to allocate a few million dollars for a full public power feasibility study and pushed for this CCA allocation as part of their regular budget discussions.
Instead, it’s been up to the supervisors to analyze, promote, and advocate for the program, and it’s been Ammiano, Mirkarimi, and the LAFCO people who have done most of the work.
It’s really annoying that the mayor is willing to put up $5 million for CCA when advocates have had to fight tooth and nail for a few hundred thousand dollars for a municipalization study. But it’s the first time in decades that any mayor has done anything but stand in the way of anything that looked even a tiny bit like public power, so it’s a historic moment (of sorts). The SFPUC needs to actively support this project and begin talking about the next step — how to get rid of PG&E for good. SFBG
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 pro–public 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.
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 million–plus 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
There are bigger issues facing San Francisco than whether to close off part of Golden Gate Park to cars on Saturdays. But as political dilemmas go, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s impending choice of whether to sign or veto the Healthy Saturdays initiative presents him with a difficult call on a matter of great symbolic importance.
Newsom hasn’t taken a position yet, and City Hall sources say he’s actively trying to find a compromise position — something that will most likely involve strict and quantifiable monitoring standards during the six-month study period, or perhaps a request that the closure be moved to the west side of the park, which supporters of the measure have resisted.
If possible, Newsom would like to avoid vetoing a measure beloved by environmentalists, bicyclists, and recreational park users. Newsom’s only other four vetoes have also shot down legislation prized by progressives: three rejected measures aimed at helping renters and preserving apartments, and one killed an ordinance limiting how much parking can be built along with downtown housing units.
But the clock is running on a JFK Drive closure slated to begin May 25, and Newsom is unlikely to please everyone, given the polarization and strong visceral reactions to the issue. The debate has so far played out as a class conflict, albeit one that has both sides flinging the epithet of "elitism" at each other.
The opposition campaign waged by representatives of the park’s cultural institutions (including many prominent and wealthy political donors) and some park neighbors say closure supporters are trying to shut others out from the park, hurt the museums, and deny the will of voters. Supporters say this about making a portion of the city’s premier park safe and inviting on weekends, rather than allowing it to be used as a busy thoroughfare and parking lot.
The rhetoric on both sides has often been heated, but supporters have for the most part stuck to the facts, while the opposition campaign has been marred by misrepresentations (see "Dede Wilsey’s Whoppers," 4/19/06).
Some of the inaccurate statements — most notably that voters have repeatedly rejected closure — have taken on the air of truth as they were repeated by mayoral staffers, Sups. Fiona Ma and Bevan Dufty, and in two overheated columns by the San Francisco Examiner‘s Ken Garcia that were riddled with inaccuracies and unsupported statements. (Garcia did not answer an e-mail from the Guardian seeking comment on his distortions.)
During the Board of Supervisors’ April 25 hearing on the matter, the main question was whether a measure that already had six cosponsors would garner the eight votes that would be needed to override a mayoral veto.
"On two different occasions, voters rejected Saturday closure," was how Supervisor Ma explained her opposition, reading from a prepared statement. Supervisor Dufty, who voted no, also said he was swayed by the election argument: "This has come before the voters, and that’s what I’d like to see happen [again]."
Actually, the question was put before voters just once, in November 2000. Just over 45 percent of voters wanted immediate Saturday closure (Measure F), while about 37 percent of voters approved of a rival measure sponsored by museum patrons (Measure G) that would have postponed closure until after the garage was completed.
Several supervisors assailed the election argument that Garcia had circulated so vociferously, including one Healthy Saturdays opponent, Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who said neither the voter argument nor the argument that the de Young Museum would be hurt were valid.
Instead, Elsbernd said he was swayed by the concerns of park neighbors that the existing Sunday closure creates traffic problems in their neighborhoods. So he proposes that the Saturday closure happen on the west side of the park, rather than the east.
"Why can’t we spread out these impacts?" Elsbernd said. "It’s a simple compromise that will alleviate a lot of concerns."
Supporters of the closure have resisted that proposal, arguing that the eastern portion has most of the commercial vendors, the flattest and best-quality roads for kids just learning to ride bikes, the warmest weather, and is best served by the new 800-spot parking garage, which hasn’t ever been full since it opened earlier this year.
And at this point, starting over with an alternative proposal would greatly delay the closure and ensure that the trial period doesn’t generate a full summer’s worth of data.
"The time is right. We have the garage open, and it’s accessible," said Sup. Jake McGoldrick, who sponsored Healthy Saturdays after opposing it two years ago on the grounds that the garage wasn’t yet open. He and other supporters later told us that they’re open to considering any monitoring standards that Newsom may propose.
In the end, the measure was approved on a 7–4 vote, with Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier (who didn’t speak about her reasons) joining Ma, Dufty, and Elsbernd in opposition.
"The table is set for the possibility that the mayor will veto this legislation," Sup. Gerardo Sandoval said at the hearing.
Afterward, Newsom spokesperson Peter Ragone said the mayor would make a decision on whether to veto in the next week or so. In the meantime, Ragone told reporters: "The mayor is going to continue to work with both sides on the issue to maintain a dialogue with the hope that we can reach a place where the right thing can be done." SFBG
EDITORIAL You read the academic journals these days, or peruse economic-development Web sites, and everyone seems to be talking about sustainable urban economics. It’s as if the mantra that was first put forward by Jane Jacobs, David Morris, and a few others a quarter century ago is very much in the mainstream today: Cities function best with diverse economies dominated by locally owned businesses, with money circuutf8g within the community. Cutting-edge restaurants talk about serving locally grown food. Beverage savants want local beer and wine. Just about everyone — including the mayor and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce — wants to participate in a program called Shop Local.
It’s a wonderful, encouraging trend — but if it’s going to make any real difference in this city, it has to become a lot more than lip service. Consider: •Just as Mayor Newsom was proudly signing on to a Shop San Francisco program, the mayor and the supervisors were busy approving plans to allow Home Depot — an anticompetitive out-of-town corporation that destroys local small business and undermines the entire concept of a strong local economy — to build a giant store on Bayshore Boulevard.
•It’s taken legal action by Sue Hestor and the neighborhood leaders to derail (for now) the mayor’s plans to build high-end condos all over the eastern neighborhoods — threatening hundreds of locally owned businesses.
•Downtown business leaders and the groups they fund still push for policies that hurt most of the businesses in the city — and too many small-business people still go along.
Here’s the reality: Supporting small businesses — and moving San Francisco toward a sustainable economy — requires a lot more than a slogan. The people who are behind the Shop Local movement know that. They’re promoting a wide range of national and local policies designed to change not only attitudes but the direction of public policy.
San Francisco, a progressive city known for its wonderful, lively, unique neighborhoods, ought to be a national leader in the battle. But others (Philadelphia, for example) are moving way ahead. This city is still stuck in an ancient (and regressive) economic mind-set.
There are a number of key things the city can do to turn that around and become a truly small-business–friendly place — and most of them go far beyond public-relations efforts and cutting through red tape. The basic approach to policy needs to change; here are a few ways to start:
•Stop allowing big chains to come into town. That’s not exactly rocket science, and it isn’t so hard either: Hayes Valley and North Beach both have "formula retail" laws that restrict the chains, and there’s talk of doing the same in Potrero Hill. But why does this have to be fought block by block? Why not a citywide ordinance that protects every neighborhood commercial district — and, more important, keeps the life-sucking big-box giants away from the city altogether?
•Make small, locally owned businesses part of the planning process. The city’s own (limited) studies have made clear that the type of development the mayor and the current city planning leadership has in mind would damage local businesses, particularly in the repair, distribution, and small manufacturing areas. That alone ought to be grounds to change directions. Why not a checklist for every new project that includes the question: Will this displace existing locally owned businesses? If the answer is yes, the project should be rejected.
•Take progressive business taxes seriously. There’s almost certainly going to be an effort this fall to change the city’s business-tax structure, with one of the goals being an increase in overall revenue. That’s great, and it ought to happen — but the tax rates have to be shifted too, so that a tiny local retail outlet doesn’t pay the same amount as the Gap. (Socking big-box outlets with a special tax or fee — possibly based on the fact that they are by nature car-driven operations — might be a nice way to bring in some cash.)
You can’t be friendly to small local businesses these days without taking sides in the national economic war — and that means coming out against the big chains. Until San Francisco does that, all the talk of supporting local merchants will amount to nothing. SFBG