By Steven T. Jones
For anyone who could sort through the sometimes mind-numbing minutiae of land use economics and regulation, today’s Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee contained some interesting insights. Sup. Chris Daly has been trying to strengthen the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance — which now requires most developers build some below market rate units in their projects (12 percent if done on-site, 17 percent for off-site, or an in-lieu fee) — by increasing the percentages to 20-25, changing who qualifies to buy them and how they’re sold, and a few other tweaks. But a consultant report that came out Friday concluded that developers wouldn’t build at that level because that would drop their take below their minimum required 28 percent profit margin for big high rises (or a profit of around $250 million). Daly and housing activists who worked on the ordinance, including Calvin Welch, expressed astonishment developers required that much profit before they’d build, but they read the political handwriting and lowered their percentages to 15 and 20 percent, which pencil out. “What we were confronted with last Friday was political death,” Welch told me. But now, after that and a change grandfathering in current projects, the ordinance has the support from both the Mayor’s Office and leaders in the development community, although the committee punted it for a week to deal with a few details. There’s lots more to say about all this, but I’ll save most of it for my article in next week’s paper.
Steven T. Jones
By Steven T. Jones
By Steven T. Jones
So, Mayor Gavin Newsom tells the dailies that San Francisco is going to pull out all the stops to snag the 2016 Olympics, using Hunter’s Point to house the athletes and staging the games at a delux Candlestick Park (ie public subsidies for the 49ers new stadium). No wonder so many people worried that the new Bayview Hunter’s Point Redevelopment Area might be used to line the pockets of big corporations and developers instead of benefitting the people of the southeast. But Newsom tries some win-win spin by offering to let poor folks have the 4,000 apartments he wants to build when the athletes are all done — 10 years from now. A question: if we have the resources to build a bunch of publicly subsidized apartments, why don’t we do so now? Make no mistake, this is about our mayor’s ego and political ambitions more than the interests of city residents, particularly those of the southeast, which have already endured more than their share of capitalism’s hidden costs.
By Steven T. Jones
The rancorous debate over providing health care to all San Franciscans finally comes to the Board of Supervisors for a vote tomorrow, culminating a truly ugly political spectacle. The business community has aggressively gone after the measure’s sponsor, Tom Ammiano, angrily accusing him of not listening and not caring.
Now, it’s understandable that some small business people on the verge of going under would be upset about having to give health coverage to their employees. It’s a legitimate concern, but it’s also a valid point that Ammiano’s measure makes: providing a living wage and health coverage to employees is a reasonable cost of doing business in this city, and if you can’t afford to do these things, then your business plan doesn’t really pencil out, sorry.
This might have been a good political debate to have, but unfortunately, the issue has been sullied and convoluted by the intentional deceptions of a few downtown groups (notably the Committee on Jobs, Golden Gate Restaurant Association, and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce), distorted and inaccurate presentations of the issue by the Chronicle and Examiner, and the political cowardice of Mayor Gavin Newsom.
If you’ve been reading the Guardian then you know that the “Newsom plan” was simply one component of the “Ammiano plan,” not the workable stand-alone plan that the dailies and business elites tried to present it as (by itself, Newsom’s plan didn’t pay for itself and it threatened to make the number of uninsured in the city grow by providing the perverse incentive for businesses to drop their employees’ health insurance in favor of cheaper but less comprehensive access to city clinics). Even the dailies finally got around to saying the two plans relied on one another last week after playing up the deceptive competition for weeks.
Here’s the bottom line: Ammiano’s plan got eight co-sponsors because it was an honest attempt to deal with a serious problem using an approach (employer mandates) popular with most citizens (as shown by 69 percent of the people voting for a statewide mandate in Prop. 72). But downtown has done nothing but obstruct and obfuscate the issue. And they’re loud and have tons of money, so they’ve managed to bring out Newsom’s most cowardly instincts and they’ve cowed the media into bearing false witness to what’s going on.
Will they also peel off a supervisor or two who have already pledged their support? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.
By Steven T. Jones
I just wanted to throw in an “amen brother” to Tim’s post below about the great coming-together of community at Dolores Park yesterday for the World Cup finals. It was a glorious day and half the staff here have sunburns and hangovers from attending. It was the ideal antidote to the city’s recent crackdowns on public fun. But in addition to our German hosts and the hordes of happy fans, one other group deserves a shout-out: the Space Cowboys. They kept a party of thousands rocking for hours after the game ended, turning the park into a fun outdoor dance party and serving up a subtle reminder that it’s Burning Man season in San Francisco. Theme camp applications were due July 1, so much of the city’s counterculture has officially divided up into tribes working on building Black Rock City on the event’s 20th birthday in late August.
I’ll have more to come on Burning Man throughout the summer, so check back.
San Francisco’s southeastern waterfront is a natural jewel buried under the city’s industrial past.
The coastline is warm and often beautiful but marked mostly by collapsing piers, rusting skeletons of industrial centers, two power plants, and other long abandoned maritime projects.
But city and port officials, with the support of civic groups, are embarking on an ambitious effort to open up the waterfront with new bicycle and pedestrian trails, rotating public artwork, improved aquatic access, spruced up waterfront parks, rebuilt piers, and the transformation of industrial property into public spaces that would teach visitors about San Francisco’s past.
The recent opening of Pier 14, with the Passage sculpture from last year’s Burning Man festival as a temporary centerpiece, was a big step forward. And the imminent announcement of what the Farallon/Shorenstein development team is proposing for Piers 27–31 will be another important piece of the central waterfront puzzle.
Yet it is the so-called Blue Greenway initiative — which was formally launched June 24 with a bike and boat tour ending with a party at India Basin Shoreline Park on Hunter’s Point — that takes on the toughest terrain: the 13-mile coastline stretching from China Basin all the way down to Candlestick Point.
A Blue Greenway task force was set up six months ago by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Sup. Sophie Maxwell, with support from the Livable City Initiative and Neighborhood Parks Council. They shared their vision with a group of almost 100 bicyclists on a guided tour led by Newsom’s director of greening, Marshall Foster.
“We’re still imagining the way,” Foster said at the first stop of the Imagine the Way tour, Aqua Vista Park, where artist Topher Delaney is still covering the pier in shimmery blue sequins and installing horizontal bike rims trimmed with reflectors at the tops of colored poles.
Another art installment planned at Third Street and Cargo Way, Red Fish by William Wareham, was also not yet complete, like much of the Blue Greenway.
“You’ll notice on Illinois Street how there were no bike lanes. There were supposed to be bike lanes,” said Foster, noting how that project was recently appealed to the Board of Supervisors, only to have that and most other bike projects around the city stopped by a judge’s injunction (see sidebar).
At Pier 70 — once the main employment center of San Francisco, first with Union Iron Works and later Bethlehem Steel — getting access to the waterfront is nearly impossible now. The buildings are dangerous ruins and only broken pilings remain from the once-bustling piers.
“We think ultimately we can get in here and get access to the waterfront,” Foster said.
The Port of San Francisco’s planning and development director, Byron Rhett, who was also pedaling along on the tour, supported Foster’s hopes and said the port has consultants analyzing the site.
“We are just starting the process of declaring this an historic district,” Rhett said. “Bicycle and pedestrian access will be part of those discussions.”
Just south of Pier 70, the tour wound through the weed-strewn and graffiti-covered shoreline park and pathway at Warm Springs Cove. “This is a park that needs love,” said Michael Alexander, an historian and task force member who helped Foster narrate the journey.
A group of eight kayakers who were shadowing the bicyclists showed up while Alexander was talking, and he explained that there will be improvements to water access for them, both at Warm Springs and the next stop, Islais Landing, which was once a busy deepwater port channel, but which is now mostly hidden from view by roadways and underground culverts.
“We want to create places where we can open up Islais Creek,” Foster told the group.
The final two spots of the tour were on either side of the recently shuttered Hunter’s Point Power Plant: Heron’s Head Park and India Basin Shoreline Park, which are connected by a coastal trail that most San Franciscans probably don’t know exists.
At the final stop, Newsom, Maxwell, Assemblymember Mark Leno, and other luminaries gathered to promote the project.
“The Blue Greenway is already in each and every one of us, and we’re going to make sure that dream comes true,” Maxwell said.
The project will be a public-private partnership. Newsom committed the city to the effort but said the public has to get involved: “Without getting the enthusiasm to pull this off, it won’t happen.” SFBG
www.sfbg.com on the Pier 14 opening.
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
By Steven T. Jones
Pollster David Binder’s day-after election luncheon at SPUR is a tradition of the season and a must-attend for the wonkiest of political wonks. Among his insights:
* In an otherwise lackluster election, the Ma-Reilly Assembly race increased turnout on the more-conservative westside of San Francisco, thus hurting progressive measures like Measures A (which barely lost…probably) and B (which won, but not by as much as Binder and others predicted)
* There are still 40,000-60,000 absentee and provisional ballots to be counted in San Francisco, meaning Measure A (which was losing by a little over 1,000 words) could still flip, although Binder considers it unlikely given that absentee ballots in this race favored the “no” position.
* For its liberal reputation, San Franciscans are still fairly fiscally conservative and resist spending money. But we still support markedly more liberal candidates than the rest of the state.
* It was a good night for Asians and a bad night for wives seeking to replace their politician husbands.
* Democrats might have a hard time this fall keeping control of the statewide offices.
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 Steven T. Jones
Janet Reilly finally came to the stage just before 10:30 to concede a race that wasn’t as close as many expected. “I am so proud of our efforts today and what we did over the course of this campaign,” she said through a newscaster’s smile that masked her obvious disappointment. “We were bold and courageous, we were innovative, and we did take chances.”
In the end, though, the Ma machine was just too much, something she didn’t say, not mentioning her opponent. Instead she ran through a long list of “thank yous,” starting with her tireless campaign manager Alex Laskey and ending with her husband, controversial political consultant Clint Reilly, whom her opponents and most journalists tried to put the focus on throughout the campaign. “Thank you for believing in me,” she said to him. And then she addressed the whole group: “Thank you for standing up for change. You will forever be in my heart.”
By Steven T. Jones
Sharen Hewitt — the SF activist perhaps most associated with finding solutions to street violence — was being honored with a rose when I walked into the Prop. A party at Powell’s Place in the Fillmore. The barbecue smelled great, and when Sharen came toward the back of a room filled with multihued activists and community leaders, she encouraged me to dig in. It was delicious, and the program that followed was inspirational — and marked by a poignant reminder of what this campaign was about. For less than an hour later, Hewitt left the table with her three grandchildren and the room filled with her kindred spirits to attend to business: Another 16-year-old kid had been shot on Sunnydale Avenue and was on his way to the hospital.
By Steven T. Jones
The mood at Canvas Cafe is a little glum and doesn’t seem to fit the artsy, airy interior. They all know that it’s over, and they can’t stand to have lost to someone like Fiona Ma and the dirty campaign people fought on her behalf. Janet and Clint Reilly aren’t here yet, so I’ll keep this brief, with just one quote that seems to sum up the feelings of many of these volunteers, who fought hard to overcome Ma’s early lead and establishment support. “When you work hard for the right reasons, it really sucks to lose the good ones, like tonight,” said Alex Morrison, whom the campaign knows as Mo.
More after I write up the inspirational scene at the Prop. A party I just came from.
By Steven T. Jones
Maybe there is something to this 6/6/06 numerological weirdness after all. The mood seems dark and sinister for an election day. And it was certainly some devilish characters who have shut our Web site down all day with a denial of service attack. We don’t know which ones, but the likely suspect list should start with those affiliated with candidates that we didn’t endorse in close races: Fiona Ma, Mike Nevin, Lillian Sing, Steve Westly, and the downtown players gunning for Chris Daly’s propositions. I’m not accusing anyone of anything. I’m just saying it was someone, and probably someone who knows how influential Guardian endorsements have been in the past.
But we’re back, ready to canvas the city, cover the parties, and put it all online. So check back regularly tonight and in the coming days.
Why oh why does San Francisco have such terrible daily newspapers? In one of the most progressive cities in the country, why must we be subjected to Carla Marinucci’s regular hit pieces on the most liberal candidate in any race on the Chronicle’s front pages, or Examiner columnist Ken Garcia’s sanctimonious, truth-challenged screeds against progressives? Why do these papers so consistently sabotage human progress?
If you’re looking for evidence of the Chron’s political agenda, just read Marinucci’s two front-page stories in the last two days, both of which made the exact same accusation against gubernatorial hopeful Phil Angelides: The stories said rich developer Angelo Tsakopoulos was trying to buy the election, and a future governor’s allegiance, with about $9 million worth of independent expenditures favoring Angelides.
Such editorial overkill is clearly designed to hurt Angelides and help his Chronicle-endorsed challenger, Steve Westly. Why else would both articles bury or ignore key facts in the story?
Tsakopoulos isn’t the political neophyte Marinucci pretends he is. He’s actually been one the top regular contributors to Democrats for almost a generation (Bill Clinton used to stay with Tsakopoulos during California visits throughout his presidency); he’s also a close friend and mentor to Angelides, not simply someone trying to buy his way into a position of influence. Tsakopoulos already had Angelides’ ear; he didn’t need to spend a dime to get it.
I’m certainly not arguing that sizable independent expenditures aren’t notable, worrisome, or newsworthy. In fact, the Guardian this week reported that Sup. Fiona Ma has benefited from more than $750,000 in IEs on her behalf, most of that from the same sorts of corporate power brokers that the Chronicle regularly supports.
So why didn’t this story make the Chronicle’s front page even once, let alone on two consecutive days the week before the election? After all, the money spent on Ma’s behalf was a far higher percentage of the campaign spending in that race – and will likely have a bigger impact – than what Tsakopoulos spent on the governor’s race.
And it came from sources who really do have an interest in influencing Ma – the tobacco and liquor lobbies, gaming interests, developers, and her old boss, John Burton, who wants to retain his power broker status.
Maybe one reason is the fact that the Chronicle endorsed Ma and has been running the very attack ads that these IEs paid for (which, not so coincidentally, run right next to the web versions of Marinucci’s stories).
Another reason could be Marinucci’s barely concealed schoolgirl crush on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who her articles have described in terms that are flattering and deceptive (see “Couple in the news," www.sfbg.com/40/17/news_shorts.html). It happens again and again. Just pop over to sfgate.com, do a search using “Marinucci and Schwarzenegger” and you’ll see what I mean.
I sent an e-mail to Marinucci and five Chronicle editors raising these points, and here was Marinucci’s response: “As a longtime reader of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, I’m going to refer you to a wonderful motto which I know your publisher, Bruce Brugmann, and many of the people on your staff understand. It’s on your paper’s masthead: "It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell.”
“It’s absolutely your right not to like our stories. Sometimes, the candidates — Republicans and Democrats — don’t like them either. There’s no hidden agenda or anything else in play, another than another old newspaper motto that Brugmann also understands well: that we do the job "without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interest involved."
I responded that her quotes didn’t seem to answer my questions, particularly because the second one seems to directly contradict her approach to political coverage, in which she seems to reserve her attacks for the most liberal candidate in any race. But she didn’t respond to my follow-up questions.
We at the Guardian have our own bias – a progressive bias – and we spend more column-inches helping our friends and hurting our enemies than the other way around. It’s something we’ve always been honest about, unlike the Chronicle, which pretends to the high standard of “objectivity.” We strive for fairness to all sides and don’t apologize for advocating the broad public interest.
But we have no self-interest in our approach. We don’t like Ma’s opponent, Janet Reilly, because she’s going to defend our corporate interests in Sacramento. We like her simply because she’s far smarter and more progressive than Ma. And we don’t like the IEs attacks on her because they attempt to fool voters into believing just the opposite – deceptively misrepresenting where these two candidates fall on the political spectrum — something all newspapers should actively oppose.
Yet neither Ma, Marinucci, Garcia, nor any of the wealthy interests they represent seem to have much regard for the truth, at least around election time. I suppose that’s their prerogative, and perhaps just the nature of the beast. But San Franciscans deserve better, and they should be offended that they aren’t getting it from their daily newspapers.
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
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
San Francisco is home to a wide variety of drug users, from the hardcore smack addicts on Sixth Street to the club kids high on ecstasy or crystal meth to the yuppies snorting lines off their downtown desks or getting drunk after work to the cornucopia of people across all classes smoking joints in Golden Gate Park or in their living rooms on weekends.
Drug law reformers come in similarly wide varieties, but most have a strong preference for first legalizing the most popular and least harmful of illegal drugs: marijuana. That’s how medical marijuana got its quasi-legal status in the city, and why San Francisco hosted the huge state conference of California National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws conference that began on 4/20.
But while hundreds of CA-NORML attendees were eating lunch and waiting to be entertained by iconic marijuana advocate Tommy Chong (a session that was cut short by a hotel manager because too many attendees were smoking pot; go to “The Day after 4/20” at www.sfbg.com/entry.php?entry_id=392 for the complete story), across town another unlikely legalization proponent was speaking to a circle of about two dozen people gathered in the Mission Neighborhood Health Center.
Norm Stamper, the former Seattle police chief and a cop for 34 years, is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former police officers advocating for the legalization and regulation of all drugs (go to www.leap.cc for more info). Although Stamper also spoke at some NORML conference events, he differs from that organization in at least one key respect.
“Tomorrow I’m going to say something that will piss off NORML,” Stamper told the group in the Mission District April 21. Namely, Stamper argues that it is more important to legalize hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines than the more benign marijuana.
While NORML focuses on personal freedom and the fact that marijuana is less harmful than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco, Stamper blames drug prohibition for the more serious public health and economic costs associated with harder drugs. In particular, prohibition hinders addiction treatment and quality control of drugs — both of which can have deadly results.
“I do think drugs should be rigorously regulated and controlled,” Stamper argued, noting that there are many different visions for the postprohibition world even within his own organization. Stamper prefers a model in which all drugs are legalized, production and distribution systems are tightly controlled by the government (as they are now with alcohol and tobacco), addiction issues are treated as medical problems, and crimes associated with such addictions — such as theft or spousal abuse — are treated harshly.
But he also said that he’s open to other ideas and definitely shares the widely held view among drug-law reformers of all stripes that the $1 trillion “war on drugs,” instigated in 1970 by then-president Richard Nixon, has been a colossal failure and an unnecessary waste of human and economic capital.
“We should have created a public health model rather than a war model in dealing with drugs,” he said. “Whatever I choose to put in this body is my business, not the government’s business.”
And that’s one area in which Stamper would agree with Chong, who sang the praises of his favorite drug to a packed auditorium: “There’s no such thing as pot-fueled rage, is there?” SFBG
See “Students, Drugs, and a Law of Intended Consequences” on page 15.
This is a story about a muscle-bound governor, a nine-year-old girl, and some polar bears. The governor is Arnold Schwarzenegger, the girl is Emily Magavern, and the polar bears or at least photos of them served as backdrops for a pair of speeches the two gave on global warming.
Emily, the daughter of a Sierra Club lobbyist, gave her speech in Sacramento on April 3 at a press conference outlining legislation that Democratic lawmakers have introduced to create a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases.
“I don’t want the polar bears to lose their homes,” Emily told the gathering.
That bill was triggered by a report from the Climate Action Team, which was commissioned by Schwarzenegger in June 2005 to recommend how California should address global warming. The report’s suggestions include a tax on gasoline, the monitoring of factory emissions, a cap-and-trade system (which caps the amount of greenhouse gases that factories may produce and sets up a trading market in which businesspeople can buy or sell emissions credits), as well as other less contentious initiatives.
But when Schwarzenegger came to San Francisco April 11 to outline his recommendations, he embraced almost none of the controversial schemes, with the exception of mandatory reporting of emissions (something most factories don’t now report), even as he claimed climate change to be a “most pressing issue.”
“The debate is over, the science is in, and it’s time for action,” boomed Schwarzenegger, who then contradicted his own call to action by telling the crowd that he was concerned about scaring businesses out of the state. “Must take cautious steps and the right steps.”
There are telling contrasts between the approaches of our tough-talking governor and this soft-spoken little girl. In some ways it seems their roles are reversed, with Schwarzenegger unwilling to connect cause and effect and Emily taking a more mature view of the problem.
Emily diagnosed what is essentially a simple problem. Humans are causing cataclysmic, global climate changes through excessive consumption of fossil fuels. The changes are having a negative impact on many species, including polar bears in the Arctic and animals closer to home, like California’s state bird, the California quail.
Some of the top contributors to the problem are the humans living right here in California, which is the world’s 12th largest producer of greenhouse gases, of which 58 percent come from cars. The solution: Burn less fossil fuel, even if that’s a difficult thing to do.
“We can’t rely on oil forever,” Emily said.
In contrast, Schwarzenegger spun a compelling vision of what California’s future would be like if it cleaned up its greenhouse gas emissions. Yet he remains politically intimidated by business interests, such as the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, which says that addressing global warming would hurt the state’s economy.
In the beginning of his speech at San Francisco City Hall, Schwarzenegger touted the need for immediate action by developing a mandatory reporting and cap-and-trade system, emphasizing the economic benefits of recently implemented initiatives. Yet he later said he opposed caps, leaving it unclear how such a system would work or exactly what he’s calling for.
“We should start off without the caps until 2010,” Schwarzenegger said. “Caps could scare off the business community.”
Schwarzenegger’s response has many global warming advocates feeling deflated, while a number of businesses are breathing sighs of relief. The governor also appears to be letting the driving public off the hook by refusing to support the gas tax that his committee recommended, a problem addressed by Emily.
“If people try to not drive cars as much and try to drive cleaner cars, that would help the problem,” Emily said.
There are also many grown-ups out there who agree with Emily and say that dealing with global warming may be difficult, but doing so proactively and taking a lead role in the effort might actually help the state’s economy by encouraging development of new technologies and industries rather than hurt it.
“The chamber’s very good at having 20/20 vision in the rearview mirror,” said Bob Epstein, cofounder of Environmental Entrepreneurs. “All businesses need are the creation of simple rules, and then the legislators can step back and let business innovate.”
That seems to be what the legislature is trying to do, with Assembly Bill 32 seeking to cap factory emissions and reduce them by 30 percent by the year 2020. But whether the governor will sign this bill (and others to come) and start saving the polar bears and Emily’s generation is a question he seems unwilling to address. SFBG
An aggressive and misleading campaign against Saturday road closures in Golden Gate Park by the Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums — spearheaded by its board president, Dede Wilsey — appears to be backfiring as the proposal heads for almost certain approval by the Board of Supervisors.
Yet the Healthy Saturdays proposal by Sup. Jake McGoldrick — which would close from May 25 to Nov. 25 the same portion of JFK Drive now closed on Sundays, a six-month trial period to study its impacts — still needs the signature of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has not yet taken a position.
And there are rumblings that even if the measure is approved — either with Newsom’s signature or an override of his veto — Wilsey and her supporters intend to attempt a referendum that would effectively kill the project if they can gather 20,000-plus valid signatures within 30 days. City law requires the targets of referendums to be placed on hold until the vote, which would occur this November.
The proposal got its first hearing April 14, when the Land Use Committee unanimously recommended it be approved by the full board (which will consider the matter April 25). The long and emotional hearing showed sharp divisions between the environmentalists and recreational park users who support closure and the de Young Museum benefactors and park neighbors who oppose it.
It also unmasked the deceptive tactics being employed by Wilsey and museum director John D. Buchanan, who coauthored an April 7 letter to de Young Museum members and April 4 memos to museum trustees and staff urging opposition to Healthy Saturdays and implying the museum’s survival was at stake.
"Closure of JFK Drive on Saturday has twice been voted down by the electorate and has been shown to be unpopular in polls for the last decade. While Sunday closure is a reality, road closures severely compromise access to the museum, particularly for seniors, families, persons with disabilities, and anyone who cannot afford the cost of the parking garage," they wrote. This information was parroted by many who argued against the closure.
Yet the letters were grossly misleading — and at least 16 museum members wrote angry letters to the museum protesting the Wilsey-Buchanan position. The Guardian obtained the letters through a Sunshine Ordinance request. One writer called the museum campaign "self-serving and deceptive," while another wrote: "I take issue with undertaking a letter campaign using my donations."
Contrary to what the April 7 letter implies, people with disabilities are allowed to drive on the closed roads, and McGoldrick has now incorporated into the measure all recommendations of the Mayor’s Office of Disability. The letter also never indicates that the closure is temporary, that free parking is available a short walk from the museum, or that the public voted on the proposal just once, albeit on two competing measures that were each narrowly defeated, in November 2000.
At that time, with polls showing public support for the Saturday closure proposed in Measure F, museum patrons tried to scuttle the closure by qualifying a competing Measure G, which would have delayed the Saturday closure until after completion of the parking garage. In the ballot pamphlet, Wilsey, the California Academy of Sciences, and other opponents of Measure F wrote arguments for the ballot handbook promising to support Saturday closure once the garage was completed, as it was last summer.
"The Academy supports the closure of JFK Drive on Saturdays once the efforts of Saturday closure have been studied, alternative transportation measures are in place, and the voter-approved, privately funded parking facility is built under the Music Concourse," one statement read.
At the hearing, McGoldrick asked Wilsey why she is reneging on her promise. Wilsey said that she wrote her statement in 1998 while her husband and dog were still alive, before she had raised $202 million for the museum renovation, and back when "we were not in a war against terrorism. Almost nothing that was true in 1998 is true today."
Wilsey did not respond to our request to clarify her response or explain other aspects of what appears to be a calculated campaign of misinformation. For example, she and other museum spokespeople have been saying publicly that museum attendance on Saturdays is far higher than on Sundays because of the road closure.
When we spoke with museum spokesperson Barbara Traisman, she said the de Young receives 15 to 20 percent more visitors on Saturdays than on Sundays. Yet she refused our request to provide the attendance data to support her statement — just as museum officials have ignored requests by McGoldrick for that data for the last three weeks — telling us: "That’s too onerous to ask someone to do that."
So on April 13, the Guardian made an immediate disclosure request for those records under the Sunshine Ordinance. The next day, just as the hearing was getting under way, Wilsey turned those records over to McGoldrick.
The documents showed that on 10 of the 23 weekends that the de Young has been open, attendance on Sundays was actually higher than on Saturdays. By the end of the hearing, even committee chair Sup. Sophie Maxwell — who had voiced concerns about Saturday closure and was not considered a supporter — voted for Healthy Saturdays, joining the board’s progressive majority of six that has already signed on as cosponsors. SFBG
The Flaming Lips headlining Noise Pop
It wasn’t supposed to go like this.
When Virginia-based mall developer Mills Corp. used political pressure by then-mayor Willie Brown and a partnership with the YMCA to narrowly win Port of San Francisco approval, in 2001, for the exclusive right to build a shopping center and office park at Piers 27-31, the project was supposed to slide right through.
The Board of Supervisors was effectively cut out. All that elected body – which includes some supervisors who have been critical of the Mills project – could really do was tinker with the environmental impact report, or maybe just refuse to certify it and risk getting sued.
But that was before a little-noticed change in a fairly noncontroversial ordinance put the board in the driver’s seat.
Now a clearly concerned Mills Corp. has launched an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign – including a series of full-page newspaper ads – urging the public to convince the board to certify that the project makes long-term financial sense when supervisors consider the matter next month. Otherwise, the project could be dead even before its EIR is complete, setting up the port to chose another developer when the Mills contract expires next year.
Board president Aaron Peskin won approval last year for his Fiscal Responsibility and Feasibility Ordinance. "The whole notion of the ordinance is before you go headlong into these projects, let’s make sure the city has the resources to maintain it over time," Peskin told the Bay Guardian, noting how many projects in the city get built without solid plans for the long-term operating funds needed to maintain them.
The ordinance covers projects that get over $1 million in public funds and other taxpayer-backed subsidies, and in July of this year, with the Mills project in mind, the board modified the measure to include in its definition of public funds the lucrative rent credits Mills is getting.
"I think [Mills executives] are scared. They didn’t expect the board to be able to weigh in on this before the end," said Jon Golinger, who is leading the opposition to the project. "The board now gets to assess whether we can trust this company to do what they say they’re going to do."
And trust seems to be a key issue in this case. Under state law and Prop. H, in which San Francisco voters required a recreation plan for the northern waterfront, Piers 27-31 are supposed to be geared toward offering recreational amenities to San Franciscans. Mills and port officials say the project’s YMCA and the "recreational retail" focus of its shops will meet that requirement.
Critics in Golinger’s group say the project is little more than a glorified mall using the recreation label to pass legal muster, an accusation that Mills Corp.’s 2003 annual report does little to contest, calling the project "an attractive entertainment, dining, shopping and office center" and never once using the word "recreation" (a word added to the label in its 2004 report).
An otherwise breathlessly laudatory economic study commissioned by the developers and released in July also indirectly raises the question of whether the 164,700 square feet of office space in the project will generate enough cash to pay for all the developer’s promises. Based on statements made by Mills executives, the report notes, "the project is unlikely to be built unless it can achieve minimum net rents of $35 per square foot which represents a major premium over current rents, that few if any existing tenants would be able or willing to pay."
San Francisco has one of the highest office vacancy rates in the country, and rents average well below what these developers expect to receive. But Mills spokesman Dave D’Onofrio said the offices will be unlike any in the city, and "the market is clearly there" to support such high rents.
In addition to these areas, Peskin said the board will consider Mills Corp.’s deal with the YMCA, which will be required to pay back the $30 million in capital costs fronted by the developer, on top of the ongoing operating costs needed to maintain this project as a recreational facility open to all.
"They’re going to have to show how they’re going to fund the Y," Peskin said. He and others have noted that none of the financial documents released by the developer shed much light on that arrangement or other financial details of the project, although the port is currently preparing another financial document set for release to the board Sept. 28.
Neither port nor YMCA officials returned our calls for comment, but D’Onofrio noted that the YMCA will pay just $1 per year in rent and that he is "utterly confident that the Y will be successful."
Mills officials have publicly blamed opposition on businesses on Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, who fear competition from the project. "But there’s no validity to that argument," said Chris Martin, whose family has owned The Cannery and has been involved in northern waterfront planning issues for more than 30 years. He said the northern waterfront is already a congested mess on weekends, and an intensive project like this will make things much worse.
In response to our inquiries, Mills project manager John Spratley issued a written statement saying in part, "The Board of Supervisors will find that The Piers is financially strong and a tremendous economic benefit for San Francisco and the Port."
Peskin said he has an open mind about the project but said it is incumbent upon the developers to provide more information showing how the open space, recreational amenities, and other public access aspects to this project will be maintained over the long run: "To them, I say that if your project is so great then it will be great in the future."
E-mail Steven T. Jones at email@example.com.
Does Mills make sense?
Peskin measure gives supervisors an early say over a controversial waterfront development
By Steven T. Jones
It wasn’t supposed to go like this.
When Virginia-based mall developer Mills Corp. used political pressure by then-mayor Willie Brown and a partnership with the YMCA to narrowly win Port of San Francisco approval, in 2001, for the exclusive right to build a shopping center and office park at Piers 27-31, the project was supposed to slide right through.
The Board of Supervisors was effectively cut out. All that elected body