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Friday, April 26, 2013
Read and Discuss
Thursday, December 01, 2011
The major implications are of course for housing policy. Over 85,000 housing units would be essentially zeroed out in the most likely major temblor scenario. They would take years to replace:
Focusing on one possible earthquake, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on the San Andreas fault directly offshore from San Francisco, illustrates the types of consequences the City can expect following its next large earthquake. Such an earthquake could be considered expected because enough strain to produce an event of this size has built up on the San Andreas fault since 1906.
If such an event occurs, the City should expect the following impacts:
About 27,000 buildings of the 160,000 buildings in San Francisco will not be safe to occupy after the earthquake. About 73,000 more buildings will have moderate damage but will remain usable. Most of the damaged buildings will be wood-frame soft-story buildings, which make up more than half of all buildings in the City. Other structure types, notably concrete buildings built before 1980, will also suffer heavy damage.
About 3,600 buildings will need to be demolished and rebuilt. Many of these will be older and architecturally valuable buildings; some will be historic resources. The City will permanently lose the character and feel that these buildings contribute. It will also permanently lose any rent-controlled units in these demolished buildings, due to state law.
Two hundred to three hundred people could be killed, and 7,000 more could have injuries requiring medical care. If the earthquake occurs during the day, older concrete commercial buildings will be responsible for the largest share of casualties. If the earthquake occurs at night, wood-frame soft-story and older concrete residential buildings will cause the most casualties. Casualties could be much higher if even one large, densely occupied building collapses.
Earthquake shaking sparks fires (Figure B). This scenario is likely to ignite more than 70 fires simultaneously, while impeding the San Francisco Fire Department’s ability to respond quickly. This means some fires will burn unchecked for hours. An estimated 2,700 additional buildings could be destroyed by fire, including 5,800 housing units. Damage from fire could be much higher or lower than these estimates, depending on weather, wind, and many other factors.
85,000 housing units would not be suitable for occupancy and would take months to years to be repaired or replaced. Rental and low-income housing would be the slowest to come back.
Economic losses will be huge. The cost for owners to repair or replace their damaged buildings could be $30 billion. Most of this damage will be uninsured. Only 6 to 7 percent of home owners in San Francisco carry earthquake insurance, although coverage is higher for commercial properties. An additional $10 billion could be lost in damage to building contents, loss of inventory, relocation costs, income losses, and wages directly linked to this damage. Post-earthquake fires could add over $4 billion to these losses. Secondary economic losses, stemming from reduced business and household spending, would increase economic hardships.
I think we can safely (pardon the pun) assume that most of this loss will comprise the stock of rent-controlled units. So the challenge is on for government to compel mitigation from property owners. The question is whether it takes an incentive approach or a compulsory one. The former is what has been recommended, along with some thornier suggestions such as forcing public disclosure of seismic safety status in the course of marketing for both rental purchase (the possible effects on our local housing antimarket would be interesting to say the least).
So far the powers that be say everything is on track. However the Brown administration drug its feet here in their drive to maximise investment, and I can't help but think that there are still powerful opponents to the best options here, motivated by short-term profit.
So what have you all heard about this?
Comment here, or on the forum
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
As a white liberal, Saint Patrick’s Day makes me very uncomfortable. If you ask me, a lot of white “liberals” who use the holiday as a political organizing opportunity or celebration aren’t particularly “liberal.” When I see Irish-American boosterism, in particular the “Stage Irish” boosterism associated with both Saint Patrick’s Day and moderate politics in San Francisco, I tend to see racism and self-serving incompetence.
Mind you, I’m not necessarily talking about going to Harrington’s for some green beer. It ain’t my thing, but that’s not what I see as socially corrosive. On balance, Irish America enriches our culture. It’s when the political class goes on about the Wearin’ of the Green that my hide starts to chap.
You see, Irish-Americans are white people. True, when they came to America they may not have started out as being treated that way, but the reality is that over time (historically a fairly short time) they achieved privilege. And, when they achieved that privilege, the urban political Irish-American classes tended to keep it for themselves and in turn continue to oppress others. This was particularly the case in San Francisco. Nowadays, appropriated whiteness, which would otherwise serve as a sort of Rosetta Stone for approaching equality, per Richard Rodriguez, has been corrupted by the fallacy of Irishman as "White Negro." Lots of political figures in the City have had to adopt some level of Stage Irishness to get ahead; Indeed, their chosen representative on the Board of Supervisors has a Croatian background. This romantic conceit in turn justifies all sorts of mischief on all sides of the political compass.
A good example is the political career of Terence Hallinan, a spoiled brat and scion of a wealthy Ross family that used his Irishness to excuse his sociopathy and reinvent himself into a fake working-class hero. Hallinan used the Vietnam conflict as an excuse to become a thug on the Berkeley campus, and then used his family’s privilege to escape judgment for it. He later ran for the Board of Supervisors against gay candidates like Harvey Milk and Rick Stokes by characterizing gay people as gentrifiers, and was one of the first politicians to regard gay rights as an unnecessary “special privilege.” Eventually elected to the at-large Board, he stood mainly for corruption, and in turn used that office to get away with, among other things, sexual harrassment. Later he buffaloed the local Democratic Party to support his race for District Attorney by threatening to run against Willie Brown, who would become the City’s first Black mayor. In his two terms as DA Hallinan oversaw a historic decline in prison commitments, which exacerbated the quality of life problems we have as a city now. Today, he continues to make coin at the expense of the City being the consigliore of the unlicensed pot lobby. All this time Hallinan’s only real “credentials” as a Progressive were the usual inflated references to his Irish-American heritage, which inoculated him from criticism of his own monstrous behavior.
Meanwhile, on the moderate side we have the hapless story of Frank Jordan, remembered – perhaps unjustifiably – as one of San Francisco’s most incompetent mayors. Jordan was made as a candidate for the office out of whole cloth – he hadn’t stood for election for any office before, and while effective as police chief, was not popular with the rank and file because he lacked patrol experience and was seen as a political sycophant, having demoted his own brother for mishandling what became known as the infamous “Castro Sweep.” In a more rational universe, Jordan could have been remembered as the chief who reformed SFPD from within. Instead, political insiders saw in him the raw material for the focus of a moderate political backlash against the failings of Progressive Mayor Art Agnos. Completely unschooled in electoral politics, Jordan’s election was helped by a lot of political handholding, as well as appeals to an idealized image of the city’s semi-suburban West Side – with the usual ethnic references as code.
Jordan may have had the character and intellect to be a great mayor. But he lacked experience and insight, and was led around by the nose by shortsighted moderate business and real estate interests. His attempts to undo Agnos’ mistakes on homelessness policy were more provocative than effective. Moreover his own handlers started to turn against him, with embarrassing consequences. He was beaten by Willie Brown in 1995, and quality of life as an issue was eventually put on the back burner while Dotcom cash came into the City and government used the proceeds to realign downtown development and improve infrastructure. Part of that process was derailed by yet another product of the City’s overly coddled Stage Irish political community: Joe O’Donoghue and the Residential Builders’ Association.
During the administration of Dianne Feinstein, the City adopted a General Plan, which foresaw the need for infill housing for working families as labor supply for new knowledge-based businesses. This infill housing would replace prior light industrial uses in the southeast sector of the City, as those businesses moved south. The plan was cast aside by Feinstein’s successor Art Agnos. Little was done to restore that plan under Jordan apart from negotiations and legislation to create what eventually became Pac Bell Park. While that was important, it still left the future of San Francisco’s family housing supply – and thus the City’s middle class – in limbo.
As Willie Brown took office in 1996, O’Donoghue, who had earlier worked to game city planning policy by helping to create the infamous Board of Permit Appeals, came swiftly into the debate over the future of South of Market (SOMA). Armed with a captious interpretation of a 1983 law which was meant to protect ad hoc housing for artists, O’Donoghue’s RBA successfully contracted and built project after project of new model loft housing – open plan condominiums which had little to be desired in either price or amenities by families, but worked well as bachelor pads for Dotcom executives. On top of this, they had a reputation for shoddy build quality. Working both sides of the table as usual, O’Donoghue then courted the Left in the wake of the reactionary protests that his unsustainable projects provoked, bankrolling newly elected poverty pimp supervisor Chris Daly out of campaign debt and thus tucking him into his pants pocket. The end result was that SOMA planning policy became corrupted into a donkey show of most favored luxury projects with kickbacks to affordable housing NGOs, leaving new construction available only to the very rich and poor, and the middle class left to fight for the fixed supply of rent controlled and convertible units. All though this horrifying charade, O’Donoghue endeared himself to the political class with precious references to his Irishness, including obnoxiously dull poetry; Seamus Heaney he isn’t.
We’d all like to think that things are better now. But the specter of Stage Irish pseudosuburban boosterism still exists, and at least one of its paragons has deigned to declare himself a candidate for mayor. At least one Italian candidate is taking on a frighteningly Stage Irish mien.
Let’s cut the crap, people: white is white. If you’re white, you’re privileged. If you’re not white, you’ve got a legacy of discrimination to contend with and in a political environment like San Francisco’s, that is both a curse and a blessing in that you get a natural constituency. The upshot is that white people can’t legitimately run on an ethnic constituency – they need to run on issues. And that is also a blessing and a curse. But the alternative has always proved worse.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
With the recent ideological shift at City Hall, San Francisco's Progressives should be looking for a new, more relevant narrative to operate under. There are a lot of issues that local Progs could take the lead on, as a balance to the new Moderate political establishment - such as ensuring that the backlash against Labor in California doesn't become unjustified persecution as what seems to be materializing in the Midwest, for example. Another serious issue is police conduct, but the recent Taser controversy shows that Progs again seem to be avoiding the real issue, just as Taser proponents are: the real issue here is training, not technology.
Unfortunately, a lot of our local Left hasn't clicked onto the Big Picture yet. Their favorite poverty relief NGOs are dragging their feet on meeting community demands for public toilets, for instance. Surely people must eat, but they must also excrete, and it makes sense that the City's free kitchens help provide the facilities, along with help from government. What doesn't make sense is not even wanting to look into the issue.
But it is yet another issue which has already attracted the ire of the more supercilious among activists: a recently discovered and restored "historical" soda pop advertisement in Bernal Heights.
Usually, commercial speech and quality of life concerns are at odds. It's really no different here; it's just that one party feels that that the recently dug up commercial speech has historical value. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. Unfortunately, Progressives, including District Supervisor David Campos, are railing on about how this non-issue should be a proxy war over perceived corporate responsibility for tooth decay and fat kids. Maybe, just maybe, the sign is really just an eyesore.
However, it does seem that Coca-Cola products have a tendency to cause uproar when abruptly introduced into isolated, provincial communities. Just ask the San people of Namibia, or at least some of them.
Tuesday, February 08, 2011
There are times when certain subtle realities of politics can only be handled indelicately.
Witness for example, the memo provided to Mayor Lee by Steve Kawa's office in re commission appointments, discussed further here.
The memo as published is redacted. I'm not going to ask who did the redacting, but in many cases it's kind of obvious why redacting was done. It was done to protect the privacy of individuals.
What may be interesting is that an aspect of one's private life becomes an issue with regard to demographic representation. In other places religion generally may be treated the same way.
There are a couple of concerns that come to mind, however:
1) Regardless of noble intention, redacting almost always makes an official document worthy of derision by someone. For instance, I would not be surprised if it were to show up reprinted in VERITAS USA accompanied by the usual bigoted screeds.
2) Suppose for a moment there were an unwritten rule that 18% percent of San Francisco political appointments should be from a certain demographic feature which is relevant to one's private life. Suppose then, that some cheeky sort in Washington decided that in response there should be an unwritten rule that no more than 10% of jobs in the Capitol should come from this same demographic. It might cause a catastrophic shortage of Congressional aides.
Discuss on the Wall Message Board
Thursday, December 30, 2010
As we come to the end of Gavin Newsom’s truncated second term as mayor of San Francisco, we may want to look around and see if the city is truly better off than it was seven years ago.
Recent articles in the Chronicle and Examiner have tended to celebrate the changes, at least in attitude, Newsom has brought to City Hall. However, what may smudge his mark on history seems to have been glossed over. In reality, Newsom is viewed by many pro-business and centrist liberals in much the same way that progressives now view Barack Obama; that is to say, with some sense of betrayal.
Newsom has had a very hard time finishing what he has started. The most glaring example of this is his failure to carry out his campaign promise to reform the city's homelessness policy. Walk down any part of our downtown and you'll see the situation has not changed. Instead, we got the Potemkin Village Sideshow called Homeless Connect, a facile palliative policy that was also embraced, ironically, by the Bush administration. The reality is that while Newsom aggressively brought a lot of homeless people into existing assistance networks, more so than any previous Mayor, he never put a real dent into the root problem. The only way to deal with the chronic homeless is to essentially make their “lifestyle” illegal – allowing courts to intervene and mandate life assistance. Newsom’s Community Justice Center on Polk Street is a mere token move in that direction.
Newsom also has a bad habit of sacrificing subordinates carelessly. First among these was police chief Heather Fong, who entered the job with a reputation as a strong but low-profile administrator, but was shown the door after being tarred as Newsom's political whipping girl on the increasing violent crime rate, and a seeming inability to deal with the old-boy cronyism of the police union and their contempt for the public. Only very late in the game has Newsom finally done the right thing by hiring George Gascon, a dedicated professional from outside the hidebound culture of the SFPD with a personality strong enough to work for lasting change. But by appointing Gascon so late in his term, and leaving early, Newsom has again left yet another police chief twisting in the wind.
If Gascon ends up not being able to make lasting changes to SFPD, then it could very well be argued that the only lasting positive legacy of the Newsom Administration will be the further development of the New Downtown in South of Market, solidified by the opening in 2005 of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine on King Street. Newsom deserves significant credit for setting the policy stages for the Center and its companion ballot initiative Proposition 71, in the face of skepticism from different ideological directions at local, state, and even national levels.
Unfortunately, this early major victory for Newsom may have encouraged some hubris on his part. Much has been made of Newsom's subsequent public stand on marriage equality, which while laudable on the surface, can hardly be considered as courageous within his own constituency. Meanwhile, on the national and eventually state level, Newsom became a useful caricature of an arrogant liberal elite as a foil for social conservatives. We live in an age where politics is more often defined by irrationality and backlash. To succeed, the ongoing for struggle for civil rights must focus on achieving not merely tolerance, but outright acceptance. To this end the most effective advocates for marriage equality will always be the stakeholders in that struggle themselves: namely, gay and lesbian people. Newsom stole their thunder, endearing himself to his own constituency, while, as usual, allowing the real stakes to twist in the wind. The resulting conservative backlash not only brought shame upon California, but may have also cost the Democratic party a presidential election.
This brings attention to Newsom’s biggest, but unfortunately apparently not fatal, flaw: his venal personality. Stingy with praise, assistance and courage, Newsom may well be the ultimate egoist, a Randian Objectivist ideal type working ironically within a political framework dedicated to social justice. Many of the issues he embraces suffer as his own career benefits from them.
Now ready to assume the mostly symbolic office of Lieutenant Governor, Newsom's statewide and national image remains that of almost a professional tarbaby, permanently positioned to provoke the political right on social issues. Unlike President Obama, who aims to change peoples' minds by reaching out to them, Newsom's strident posturing is a turnoff. He is in many ways the biggest threat we have to the modern Liberal tradition in American politics.