Saturday, December 31, 2005


Mind Your Own Damn Business

Oh for slow news days. The most interesting article in today's Chronicle is a profile of 109-year-old Lucille Meyer: North Beach native, '06 quake survivor, and now Burlingame resident.

Some interesting insights: no, she's not going to attend the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the '06 quake. She says she's not big on celebrations. We think she's just being polite - if YOU went through something horrible like that, why would you want to "celebrate" it? particularly when the "celebration" is being used as a rostrum for useless, tinhorn bureaucrats?

Also: when asked what the secret of her longevity was, she said: "I mind my own business."

Now, that's something. A Native San Franciscan who minds her own business. Now, we know lots of Native San Franciscans who are nice, reasonable people who do in fact mind their own business. You just don't read about THOSE Native San Franciscans in the newspapers, at least until now.

So here's some advice to all those Nattering NIMBY Natives and Pseudo-Natives who like to be seen on Citywatch and in the Funny Papers: MIND YOUR OWN DAMN BUSINESS. You might live longer!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Supervisor Lorax

A neighbor of mine has two cats. They’re his “sort of” pets; they’re pretty much feral, and they aren’t allowed inside, but center their territory around his back yard. One day they got my neighbor into trouble, as one of them decided to enter his neighbors’ house through a window and kill their prized Persian cat (you know, one of those pathetic inbred things with the face so smashed up it can’t eat right; I suspect that if I were a healthy cat I’d want to kill one of those on sight, too).

Now you might ask, not knowing the behavior of dumb animals, why on earth would a cat want to do that? Simple. The cat is a dumb animal, which does not recognize human property rights or boundary lines. He figures that if he can see it, it’s in his territory.

Which brings us to the latest legislative idiocy to come out of City Hall, a bill that, apparently, encourages those pesky neighbors of yours to continue thinking like dumb animals.

You see, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick has introduced legislation, which would allow people to landmark trees on private property. Not just their private property, but also other people’s private property. So this means that if you can see a tree, it’s suddenly yours! Just make sure that nobody else sees the tree, or it might become theirs!

Despite the fact that McGoldrick is the main sponsor of this bill, we see the stubby-fingered hands of a certain Board President on this one; it’s pretty clear this turd was inspired by the recent non-controversy over a Telegraph Hill resident cutting down a rotting and unsafe cypress tree in his yard, which had been home for some of the noisome parrots which habituate around there and have developed a following.

Now, we all love trees. Ken Garcia especially loves trees, as he pointed out in a column he did in the Examiner yesterday, which I can’t link to because Zoran forgot to make sure it was put up on the Examiner website. He loves some trees so much that he reminded us all of how he hates the Natural Areas Program, because they want to put up certain kinds of trees on public land that he doesn’t like, at the supposed expense of certain stinky highly flammable trees that he happens to like. But he does rightly point out (note that I must quote here, as Zoran forgot to make sure it was put up on the Examiner website):

“So why the sudden need for a new bureaucratic branch of tree police? Supporters of the legislation to give a host of city agencies to ability to nominate trees for landmark status say it’s necessary because San Francisco has one of the lowest percentages of tree cover of any city in the country. But you don’t need a law to plant new trees – which seems to be a more fruitful solution – and no garden-variety civil libertarian would give city officials the power to decide which trees someone must maintain on their property.”

(Note to Zoran: You might wanna go ahead and make sure that article gets put up on the Examiner website. Thanks.)

Unfortunately we have here yet another example of a game the Board of Supervisors has become annoyingly good at: Pander to Dumb Instincts and Damn the Unintended Consequences. Everyone agrees we could use more trees. The question is, can that be accomplished by bringing intrusive regulation onto private spheres such as one’s back yard?

Think about it. It’s one thing to legislate prohibitions in public space and commerce. It’s quite another to invade beyond that into the private sphere. Just because you can see it, whether because you can look into window or it sticks up over a fence, it doesn’t mean that that something is yours to do whatever the hell you want with it. We are human beings who govern ourselves with an accepted system of rights and responsibilities; not dumb animals. Speak For The Trees all you want, but it’s quite another thing to go after other people’s Thneeds just because you don’t like the looks of them. Somehow that standard of common decency is forgotten at City Hall.

Of course, the Board has had a history of failing to learn to avoid the unintended consequences in this area. They add more restrictions on to property conversion and eviction control because they say there are too many evictions; lo and behold after they get through with their legislative work even more evictions, now backed by state law, occur. They put a handgun ban on the ballot and it passes, despite the experience of other cities that have seen violent crime rise, not fall, in the wake of similar bans.

So will it surprise anyone that once this piece of legislative crap is adopted, that there will end up being not more, but less, trees on private property in the City?

I can just see it now: realtors and landscape architects are going to start recommending Japanese stone lanterns in place of ornamental trees. Trees will become too much trouble as too many homeowners realize that if they do want to plant a tree, they won’t be able to cut it down or even prune it if it grows into a problem.

Of course, the Supervisors aren’t thinking about that, since all those headaches will occur shortly after they move on to something else.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Smallest House on The Block

How a tiny house on Frederick street has attracted the avarice of big political juice

The swath of Frederick street near Shrader epitomizes the idyllic nature of Cole Valley: open, tree-dotted streets, houses with charming facades, interspersed with mom-and-pop coffeehouses and grocers. The neighborhood has developed a reputation for being eminently livable but at the same time unpretentious and tolerant: a combination that has attracted residents as notable and diverse as Craig Newmark and Rickie Lee Jones.

Left: 450 Frederick Street. The little house, next to the big one. Note the deck on top of the neighbor's garage.

But there is a war going on here. One which has bought out the worst motives in people who are thought of as community leaders, and has bought to bear the power of major political players. What is the war over? Is a nearby school closing? Is a major chain store moving in? Is it over the future of one of the many nearby green spaces?

Nope. It’s over the little forlorn looking house at 450 Frederick Street, it’s over the perceived status some people think they have in the neighborhood, and over supposedly genteel people who are waging war against legal construction to divert attention away from their own, illegal construction.

Left: looking down the 400 block of Frederick

450 Frederick is quite literally the smallest house on the block. Built in the 1890’s it was once a fairly decent example of a small 19th century row house. Over time and successive owners, it’s been remodeled to death and then neglected to death for years. The original façade is completely gone; the house itself is functionally obsolete and is over shadowed by virtually all the neighbors’ structures around it. Alex Gutkin, the owner of the house, wants to tear down the house and replace it with a 40 – foot, three-unit Edwardian-style building – which is more in line with the other structures on the block - and will provide housing for both him and his extended family, plus another unit to be sold at a comparatively affordable price. Gutkin followed all the necessary legal procedures to get the project approved, and received a categorical exemption from the Planning Department.

Enter Marjorie Beggs. Beggs, along with her husband Richard, a Hollywood sound editor, owns the largest house on the block. She is also the executive editor at the San Francisco Study Center, a Tenderloin nonprofit with significant ties to the city’s political establishment, and which publishes its own community newspaper, the Central City Extra. Her house, or more importantly the deck she has on top of her separate garage, is adjacent to 450 Frederick. And it is Marjorie Beggs who has instigated the war going on in the 400 block of Frederick Street, one that has marshaled citywide political juice to weigh in on a dispute over a small, insignificant, run-down house.

Beggs, along some of the adjacent neighbors, has led an appeal against the categorical exemption granted to Gutkin based upon claims that 450 Frederick still has significant preservation value, and that the new project would be a blight on the neighborhood, being completely out of character with the adjacent structures. But even a cursory analysis of the preservation value of 450 Frederick comes up nil. The façade was completely redone with stucco in the 1940s and later with aluminum siding in the 1960s. In that time any architecturally distinct features were obliterated. The house is roughly half the size of all the other structures on the block. Gutkin applied with all existing City rules that were in place at the time of the application. The parcel is rightfully exempt from any environmental review. If the house standing now at 450 Frederick were a new construction project it would never be approved, because the house as it now stands is not in line with the other structures on the block. And while Gutkin’s opponents have touted the house as potentially part of a neighborhood historic preservation district, no district is seriously planned, and the house itself has no recognized criteria under established state or national standards for being included in such a district.

Based upon all of this the Planning Commission rightly rejected the appeal. But then, Beggs and her merry band of NIMBYs took the case to the Board of Supervisors – where she knew her political connections would give her the upper hand. A move to review the appeal was introduced by Aaron Peskin and Chris Daly – despite the fact that the house is in neither of their districts.

Left: Cole Street resident Jim Krueger calls the treatment by the Board of Supervisors of the Gutkin project at 450 Frederick "Absolutely Criminal."

Last April, the Board voted to support the appeal, based upon the preponderance of appellant testimony about preservation criteria – none of which has ever been substantiated – and over concerns voiced by Peskin that the neighborhood notification process was insufficient. “It was Peskin that got Planning to suddenly change their policy…that somehow, in this one instance here, we need to figure out if the notification process is adequate,” says Jim Kreuger, a neighbor of Gutkin who testified in support of his project. “It wasn’t an issue until Marjorie Beggs came along. You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. Gutkin already got his cat ex, now you want to talk about it?”

Left: while construction at 450 Frederick is now stalled, another project still goes on right across the street - with no scrutiny whatsoever.

So while the Board of Supervisors was able to take a stand in favor of historical preservation in this case, one has only to go back to Cole Valley to suddenly question what this case was really about. Lots of construction is still going on in the neighborhood, including a major project right across the street from 450 Frederick. So what exactly is being preserved? “Basically what I think is that it’s a tight knit block, they kind of can do as they please because they each kind of look after each other,” say Kreuger. “We’ve got a new person coming in and they feel like, ‘this is our block therefore we rule’…somebody new is moving in and they don’t like it.”

And indeed, a lot of the construction seems to being undertaken by people who were busy at the Board arguing for preservation. Take for instance Marjorie Beggs, and that deck she has on top of her garage; the one right next to 450 Frederick. It would seem that Beggs’ real concern over the project is what shadows might be cast onto that deck. So why didn’t she complain on that basis, or try to work something out?

Well for one thing, it appears that her deck is illegal. No permit was ever applied for, and there are complaints on file at the Building Department against it. There are also complaints on file against Beggs for some illegal in-law apartments, which may or may not exist on her property.

So in the end we are left with more questions than answers. Is the City’s historic preservation policy doing what it’s meant to do, or is it being misused by people who already have theirs and want to screw the rest? The Board may very well have the opportunity to answer those questions again: Gutkin is appealing his denial.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Community Policing and what it really is

The Chronicle's Jaxon Van Derbeken, usually one their more feckless writers, has actually written a fairly decent article on how staffing shortages and institutional conservatism are hindering the implementation of community policing - which perhaps should be renamed neighborhood-based policing - in San Francisco.


The DOJ's Community Poilicing Page

Community Policing Checklist

Los Angeles Community Policing

Wikipedia: Broken Windows

A Leftist Criticism of Broken Windows

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

San Francisco's Underclass: Families

by Marvin Destin, Guest Columnist

Each year my wife and I get a special visit with an old friend. As we were on our way from parking the car to his house in the Fillmore Street area we came upon a very unusual Christmas Tree outlet. Unusual, because it had lots of trees people could buy but only trees that were about two feet tall. They looked strange and somehow sad to me. My initial reaction was a joke, as in, “This must be where the seven dwarfs get their trees”. My wife however chirped up with, “they are for the people in apartments”. But of course. Things like this aren’t created via public policy. They happen to meet demand. But, for whatever reason, there are many things in San Francisco that reflect realities like this relatively minor example.

San Francisco used to be a City not much different than any other City in America in terms of demographics. It also had several industries, that are, if here at all, shadows of what they used to be. Blue-collar industries. Longshoremen, ship building and maintenance which means pipe fitters and electrical and plumbing contractors, printers, crane operators, as well as much larger fishing and various maritime related industries such as boat repair and processing plants. The City also used to have significantly greater manufacturing and building related industries. Go just on the other side south of Potrero Hill and from Bayshore to the bay and you see what remains of an old and sizeable industrial complex. Lumber companies to construction supplies and even the old expansive complex of The American Can Company and go just a little farther to my old neighborhood in the Valley and you found the expansive Southern Pacific Railroad's grand car yard and engine maintenance facility. The Hormel slaughterhouse that used to be on Third Street, and saw daily herding of pigs and cattle on the paved streets parade around, is of course gone.

Blue-collar industries, unlike Doctors lawyers or LGBT counselors consist primarily of “salt of the earth” men and women who married, had kids (more than one), and worked hard their whole lives. These people used to live here in large numbers. Yes, lawyers and doctors have kids (well, maybe A kid). But studies confirm that as societies increase in the numbers of educated professionals the number of children per capita decline.

Over the years several political ideas have set up shop in San Francisco to wit they have become ground zero for such movements. The first is that anything that “harms” the environment is bad and must be rid of. The second is the gay rights movement. A third would be the amorphous concept that involves the Governments right and or duty to intrude into, and micro control, all aspects of real estate development along with numerous other lifestyle related issues i.e. bicycles. The fourth is Western Socialist Liberalism or what is known as “collectivism”. And a big part of all that is progressive politics. Liberal politics translated through the prism of liberalism implies a power group of people who on the one hand KNOW what is good for everyone else, but refuse to believe that what they want to impose on everyone else actually applies to them. See: Independent Counsel Law. Together these philosophies or ideologies have re-written the code by which San Francisco operates.

You don’t legislate ironworkers, as people, out of the City. You outlaw their industry. It’s a dirty industry, someone will get cancer from its poisons and fumes, which some study done in Greenwich Village “proves” will give three people cancer over the next 1000 years. They must go, and with it, go its workers. And with them, their lifestyle, or demographic model. They will go where their skills tell them they need to go. Or they may switch to another industry that rewards their skill with their hands or shoulders; but few will leave welding to become Psychiatrists or LGBT float designers.

And while they are trying mightily to change this fact, few gays have the dinner table filled with three daughters and three sons that the Irish welder who worked South O’ the Slot and lived in the Sunset used to have.

San Francisco has changed in many ways for certain but none has been bigger than its transition from the town that celebrated Harry Bridges and his longshoremen to one that celebrates Bears and Dykes on Bikes.

This has been the legacy of the environmental movement. Get those dirty industries “outta here”, as Duane Kuiper of Giants broadcasts says. The gay demographic growth has had its obvious impact in terms of which demographic replaced the old. Yet gays were always here even as I was a small boy eons ago. It has in fact been the last two of the four factors that have had the biggest impact of all. That turned what could have simply been a shift of industrial policy emphasis into what has been a quiet exodus of families.

Raising kids in the modern world is expensive. Between the many visits to the doctor(s) there is education. On top of that, kids, to develop into well balanced teens or young adults, need to have a spectrum of things from sports to many other activities including the social life that will frequently include arts in some form, lessons in one of many things from music to dancing, and the social activities such as birthday parties. All this implies the “T” word. That’s “T” as in transportation. And if you have, say, two kids, or heaven forbid, three, that whole T-word thing gets beyond complicated in San Francisco.

The prior two paragraphs, when one considers that all get processed through the political gauntlet, decidedly western collectivist, atheist, and socialist, means that as the political came to drive how everything is determined and then decided, step by step, San Francisco has disassociated itself from the real world. One in which two people get married and have children. San Francisco has become the City of the Single. One walk around any section of this town will reveal in stark and ultra clear terms how far out on that limb San Francisco currently sits.

The funny thing is its almost embarrassed by its placement on the scale. Politicians and other well to do San Franciscans will all swear that San Francisco is just as family friendly as any other town. They couldn’t be more wrong. Yet they feel that way because they can not bring themselves any closer to what they have wrought than Pol Pot could when his agrarian paradise witnessed giant piles of skulls all around the countryside. They know that if they actually have to prove what they deny, they would have to accept the utter bias they have built into the system. They instinctively know that if they admitted they have made children unwelcome and their parents with them, they would have to accept the criticism, which is the one thing they cannot do.

Yet virtually every policy created. Every measure passed. Every “solution” to every problem thunk up by anyone. All lead to the same place. Family and children go away.

Housing: Obviously to have kids and a family you need housing. A studio with a view and that snappy kitchenette wont cut it. When San Francisco started down the path of “rent and vacancy control” which buildings were shackled. The old single family dwellings throughout the Richmond and sunset. Which structures were exempted? Angelo San Giacomo's new apartments. If someone wants to start a family what kind of place must they have if it isn’t the SFD in the Richmond? Two and three bedroom condominiums. When San Francisco considered Mission Bay, the last expansive tract where single-family dwellings could have been built what did the City do? Ordered with policy, renter’s apartments. I could go on but perhaps you get the trend. Virtually every aspect of the policies promulgated by the Supervisors in San Francisco when analyzed cater to natural turnover of the occupant, zero reliance on automobiles for transportation, and dare I say inclusion of “low income” (gang related friends next door anyone) housing so people could be moved from the hood to the new Section 8 complex so that guess what can be built where they used to live. It is impossible to actually find a single piece of legislation backed by the SFBOS that augured for single-family housing. All other real property related measures all involve assisting the single renter, the developer of housing for same, at the expense of anyone wanting to create a family unit.

Transportation: Without a larger vehicle than a bio-fueled putt-putt you cannot have a family. I’ve personally TRIED juggling four large and heavy grocery bags for over thirty feet while I pedal my bike and I cant. Forget sports equipment or a cello on the back of the moped along with the groceries. Step by step this town has passed measure after measure after measure designed to rid the city of cars. You simply cannot have families without them. Cars have acquired every thing from increased channeling into fewer and fewer pathways to places, to preposterous ticket costs such as never used handicapped zones at two space parking lots for the local KFC. Again, without personal transportation you cant manage a family with anything resembling convenience.

Education: In spite of the claims to the contrary (or is it screams) San Francisco Public schools, myopically inflicted with the “everybody gets dragged down to the lowest common denominator” attitude (they call it helping the mentally ill ADHD mutant miscreant feel equal to the best and brightest (self esteem comes first!!!) via making the B&B wait until the MIADHD can add the two numbers together- and that my friends is HIGH SCHOOL), are among the worst in the country by any standard with only a couple of institutions here deviating from the norm. To make matters worse, the perception is that given the City’s “Sanctuary” status it has become a magnet for those wonderful kids in the most vicious Mexican and South American street gangs. Now who wouldn’t want their kids educated in that kind of place? Lets hear it for machete’s AND diversity.

Sports: Have you ever dared to traipse around on a City playground or playing field? You would swear that the last time any of them saw a rake was oh, maybe the 1950s. Between holes randomly spaced to increase the odds on injuries to grass that was cut by the imaginary gardener, some rare species of weeds that can devour kids and small dogs when mating, drainage that would make any self respecting Sudanese jealous but leave quick sand like puddles ONLY in the batters boxes and pitchers mounds, and numerous other policies that relegate kids programs and teams to insulting conditions, even shunting them aside and canceling their games so that corporate beer games can get priority. THAT folks is only ONE of my true stories. San Francisco has loads of run down horrible parks and playing fields (see Excelsior), yet wont even ALLOW one to get fixed by an independent group lest the gardeners union gets miffed. SF athletic facilities do not need money. They simply need work. Yet the city does nothing. The funny thing is that many of the people that work in youth programs is hard working and in fact do care a whole bunch but they are thwarted at every turn by the bureaucracy and the Supervisors. They are stonewalled at every turn in terms of fixing up what needs to be fixed.

Recreation: To the powers that be, they think that something like the Exploratorium is what teens and young adults do in their recreational time. Or maybe they think that if they take away enough fun things to do, the kids will be forced to dole our mashed potatoes at St. Anthony’s so they can learn about being poor. Simply stated kids need places to hang out and pass the time hopefully in relatively healthy pursuits. Drive by any athletic field and you will find exactly ZERO teens playing some kind of game. Either they need permits (expensive and complicated) or it is closed. Outdoor basketball courts are basically in schoolyards, which are closed with high barbed wire and barricaded against entry under penalty of arrest (liability concerns you know), or in the hood where white kids (for instance) are not welcome. The ocean is dangerous. The golf is frighteningly expensive. Even the museum is closed for rebuilding. That leaves…what? Your friend’s house? See “housing”.

The rest of the environment kids must exist in: OK so healthy sports pursuits are impossible. What remains? The Library? You mean the one that the ACLU demands that it allow portals to porno? The one that insists that screaming stinking vagrants be allowed to vent off their meds while THEY hang out there? Pier 39? Try spending a day there for under $100. Much of the rest of San Francisco environment is a microcosm of the city itself, which is overtly sexualized from the gay culture and the singles culture. If a kid walks (as part of a group of say 5 10 year olds) anywhere in several “popular” parts of the city he wont just pass by some adult store or watering hole, they will be encountering the people who go in them. Try Fisherman’s Wharf and just try to NOT see tits, ass, and postcard invitations to adult stores being handed to every young person (toddlers excepted, maybe) who accidentally passes by. And those snacks they serve there by the metric ton are about as healthy as a fried ball of butter coated with candy. In short everyone, kids no exception, is bombarded with sleazy come-ons and slimy products from eatable panties to see through jock straps in storefront windows. Throw in the endless magazine racks readily observable in magazine stores, the rows of adult oriented “news” rack paper dispensers all over numerous streets in most districts, and if your kid can possibly end up innocent to any degree good luck. And don’t forget the condom dispensers in all the restaurant restrooms. “Let dad finish his salad and then Ill explain what that is OK”?

It is an understatement to say I could go on. You can add “and on” about twenty times to the last sentence. The point is that San Francisco is not just “Family unfriendly”. It is beyond that. From policies that “favor” certain demographic groups in housing, to the narcissistic NIMBY-ness that the people behind them in the first place are inflicted with, which prevents any attempt to rectify the disparity, especially in favor of families. And like communist inspired planned economies and societies, the very idea of doing something for normal families would run counter to too many special interest groups that demand all the money the City might have to do something that might benefit kids or teens. After all they let the only bowling alley (The Japantown Bowl), the one final meeting place for so many teens, be converted to apartments for singles. No thought about eminent domain for THAT purpose now was there.

Like most Communistic places, it may be hopelessly beyond fixing or even changing, any more than all the other places in the world that cling to collectivism with all its inherent pathologies. San Francisco may already have gone so far in its building policies favoring small apartments and ultra pricey condos and anti-automobiles or heaven forbid SUVs that the very concept of “family in SF” is now nearly impossible to see as feasible again. IF, a big if, anyone in power actually cared.

Marvin Destin is a lifelong City resident and is a frequent contributor to ChronWatch.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Mole People

The political establishment in San Francisco has its origins in a dedicated group of people who rallied around the prominent issues of the 1960's - civil rights, equal opportunity, peace, and the environment. Unfortunately, the lexicon by which their values were expressed has gone unchanged, and the currency of their particular style of advocacy has utterly evaporated. The primary battlefield for protecting rights in no longer the streets, but our legislatures, courtrooms and universities; the struggle for opportunity has been dulled by complacency; and history has shown that global conflict and disasters are now best handled by global management. We’ve had a hard time catching up with history.

Our political community is having a hard time getting and keeping "fresh blood". People get used up, burnt out, or scared off. This creates problems in and of itself. Most notably, the needs of the City's most important contributors to local economic growth - the growing class of knowledge workers - are increasingly misunderstood and ignored. The mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings who work in information-based industries are hard for politicians to pin down, for a number of reasons. For one, most do not hold to the same notions of race, ethnicity and class that their parents did. Yet overly simplified notions of race, ethnicity and class still mean everything to the dinosaurs in government and media who dominate political discourse in San Francisco.

In the current climate, to be an advocate for an issue, you must wrap it in the trappings of identity politics in order to be heard. Vexatious, single-issue-fixated zealotry is the order of the day. Whether the identity is based on race, neighborhood, property value level, or avocation (bicycle riders, dog-walkers, etc.), the discourse never seems to wander from the tired refrain of "more for me and mine and screw everyone else". This pervasive culture of extremism is not only a turnoff for most knowledge workers, it by its very nature makes the political system inaccessible.

If this seems incredible to you, perhaps you ought to spend time looking at who shows up to and takes up the most podium time during Public Comment at the Board of Supervisors. Only rarely will an ordinary person be found. Many of those who can be found are either lobbyists, retired people on pensions, or others who for one reason or another have too much time on their hands. Consequently, much of the rhetoric of this so-called "public input" process focuses on short-sighted, short-term, and self-interested strategies for solving policy problems. An exorbitant amount of time is spent on such esoterica as museum designs, public art, honoring obscure and irrelevant figures or events (Harry Bridges, Tinky Winky, The Zebra Killings), or offenses to the hypersensitive and blue-nosed (such as the sale of armadillo meat, cigarette smoking in cinema queues, people who wear perfume, making bicyclists stop for red lights, the stubborn insistence of scientists that HIV causes AIDS, people who want to live in condos, etc.). Often, relevant issues, such as quality-of-life matters, are championed in such a relentless and petulant manner that the personalities involved overshadow the policy problem. The result is that the system becomes devalued -- particularly in the eyes of people who routinely work up to 70 hours a week keeping up with their regular lives. Most normal people are so afraid of single-issue time-waster types in any setting that the arbiters of Web Culture have coined a name for them -- The Mole People.

THE MOLE PEOPLE was the title of a rather outrageous 1950’s horror film about archaeologists who discover a subterranean civilization based on an extreme form of mutual class exploitation. Much of the imagery and themes in this film are borrowed from the futuristic society described in the H.G. Wells story "The Time Machine", where the Beautiful People, or Iiloi, appear to dominate the culture’s means of production, but are in reality nothing more than food for the underclass, called the Morlocks. In the film, the Morlocks are so transformed by their societal role that they have evolved into frightening, mole-like humanoids; hence the film’s title.

THE ANALOGY FITS San Francisco politics well - because just as lobbyists and politicians often use our own variety of Mole People to remind Supervisors and Commissioners what they’re supposed to vote for, the Mole People, particularly if they’re precinct walkers, commissioners, or "merely influential friends", can sometimes make or break issues, elections, or political careers. More importantly, they have a tendency to survive - partially because they’re so concerned with one issue, and with one approach to dealing with it, that they never have to take the risk of becoming anything else.

THE END RESULT is that San Francisco, despite its liberal reputation, is actually a very institutionally conservative city. People say they want change, and instead vote for gridlock because that is what bellicose neighborhood bullies and "insiders" tell them to do. Indeed, whenever we are asked to vote for gridlock, it is often wrapped in the packaging of change. According to polls, San Franciscans are committed to affordable housing and are sensitive to the current housing crisis, yet attempts to build are still met by extraordinary institutional opposition. Every year, we still have many of the same problems, often connected to many of the same people.

THE QUESTION IS, "What to do about it?" The answer, at least for San Francisco’s political activists, may very well be to look at ourselves. It may be time for a little more civility, and a little more perspective. And if we think about Cleaning House, we may want to think first about which house to clean first - and how.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Headless Chicken: Update

Looks like the Sentinel's Pat Murphy has had enough of h. brown. Where will the clucking fowl go next?

Oh, and in his last column, he makes yet another enemies list.


Burger King: Command-line Chicken Interface

The Other Wall, plus other images

Going Dark: City Infrastructure Fraying at the Seams

Left: Streetlights on Grant Avenue in North Beach.

Today's Examiner reports on the holes in streetlight service around the City, and how they appear to be growing.

Residents on Van Ness Avenue said city bureaucracy is leaving them in the dark, with streetlights on the thoroughfare constantly broken and without a city worker or agency that can tell them who will help.

A coalition of concerned residents say they have been complaining about the lights, which periodically switch off, for about a year. City officials say the problem rests with aging infrastructure and a complicated transmission system that must be shut off entirely when any work is being done.

This week, at least six blocks were left dark — and possibly the entire stretch of Van Ness Avenue — for a night after the Public Utilities Commission did some repair work.

Do you have streetlight problems in your neighborhood?
Let us know. We'll take pictures and let the right people know.

Scapegoat of the Week runs tomorrow.
Discussion on The Wall forum
DPW: Reporting Streetlight Problems

Friday, December 16, 2005

Fantasy Island: Update

After the pessimistic, open-ended closing on yesterday's piece on Treasure Island comes John King's write-up in today's Chronicle Datebook section on the current development plan for the Island proposed by Lennar Communities.

The current is indeed quite attractive - and probably represents the most ambitious project Lennar has ever done design-wise (Lennar has 13 projects around California, including base reuse plans at Mare Island and Hunter's Point.

But the question remains as to whether this plan, which was only recently revised from a cookie-cutter housing tract plan similar to some of Lennar's other projects, will survive the usual politics of counterdevelopment. Keep in mind, that TI is part of Supervisorial District 6, where virtually every project has to buy off the extremely expensive and unreliable Chris Daly. The first thing Daly will likely seek to attack is the appearance of the approval process, already marred by the Hall mess, and the overall skittishness toward public review, as reported on by SFWeekly last month.

The upshot: if you thought Mission Bay was an ordeal, wait until you see Fantasy Island!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fantasy Island

IN THE FILM The Gods Must Be Crazy, a band of South African Bushmen become the hapless inheritors of an empty Coca-Cola bottle, which falls to earth after being tossed out the window of a passing airplane. Once brought back to camp, the Bushmen, who naturally assume it to be a gift from the gods, discover that the bottle has many valuable uses, from carrying water to stretching hides to milling grain. Problem was, there was only one bottle. It was impossible to replicate it, and everyone soon realized that there was no way to fairly distribute its use. This was dangerous for a society which was totally unaccustomed to concepts like scarcity or ownership, and it soon caused such discord in the camp that the Bushmen elders decided to give their best hunter the task of disposing of the hellish thing, either by finding the gods to give it back to, or by tossing it off the end of the earth. In the film, this provides the basis for two hours of amusing if ethnocentric entertainment. However, the dilemma of the Bushmen in The Gods Must Be Crazy may also have a prescient message for San Francisco, as we have a Holy Coke Bottle of our own: it’s called Treasure Island.

TREASURE ISLAND was created from landfill during the New Deal Era; a macroengineering project built on the cheap to support the Golden Gate International Exhibition of 1939. The Exhibition, as spectacular as it was, was a temporary affair, which ended the following year. Thereafter the island was used as an interim airport for China Clipper flying boats, another temporary affair. When the Japanese Empire attacked US forces based in Hawaii, the Navy took control of the island and used it as a training center to supplement needs ordinarily filled by larger facilities in San Diego and Great Lakes. Like many large bureaucracies, the Navy soon regarded its temporary use of Treasure Island as a permanent one, and kept control of it until its demobilization in 1997.

When that demobilization was first announced in 1995, the City became witness to a flurry of anticipation regarding possible uses for the island. Much of this became intertwined with the politics of that year’s Mayor’s race. The San Francisco Business Times demanded that condos be built on the island. Then-candidate Willie Brown played with a number of ideas, including a plan for a high-end, "Monte Carlo-style" casino complex, which was universally ridiculed. Then-Mayor Frank Jordan didn’t articulate a clear policy for Treasure Island, but did make clear that gambling would never be an approved use.

After the election of Mayor Brown in 1995, plans were made to create a special development authority for Treasure Island. The Treasure Island Development Authority (TIDA) was finalized in 1997 as a single-purpose authority adhering to public trust principles, acting in open meetings governed by the Brown Act, and guided by an advisory committee with significant environmental representation. Oversight and approval of major contracts is by the Board of Supervisors. Parallel with the formation of TIDA were successful initiatives by San Francisco’s Legislative delegation to legalize City authority over TI. TIDA then turned to its main goals of leasing island facilities to generate revenue to cover annual maintenance costs. Long-range development ideas floated by Brown have included a luxury hotel and golf course, and a number of theme park plans. In the mean time, lots on TI have been leased to movie and TV studios, industrial uses, as well as to the Job Corps, which maintained a number of training facilities on the island, including a cooking school. What residential uses there are on the Island - the existing former military housing - are slowly falling into dormancy. The Unified School District recently decided to close Treasure Island's only school out of safety and staffing concerns.

Nevertheless, both TIDA and Brown’s policy on TI was the subject of much media criticism, most of which has revolved around policy gaffes related to the usual San Francisco political cronyism and a perceived lack of public input in the redevelopment process. This all came to a head very quickly in late 1997 when then-State Senator Quentin Kopp and perennial political poltroon Clint Reilly sponsored Proposition K, an initiative which would abolish TIDA and turn TI’s approval process over to the Port and Redevelopment Agencies. Although the initiative passed, the Board of Supervisors never implemented it.

Much of the argument in favor of Proposition K was permeated with the notion that Willie Brown was more interested in developing Treasure Island for personal rather than public benefit, something that has never been substantiated. The Brown administration had attempted to strike a deal with Disney to develop TI as a theme park and resort complex. The plan evaporated as the fractious politics around City Hall gave the media giant a terminal case of cold feet.

There is an implicit notion in much of the debate over Treasure Island that its proper future was development for permanent residential housing. This is a very tempting notion for a City facing continual housing supply contraction. But is Treasure Island the proper place to create permanent housing? Can you build a sustainable neighborhood there?

The answer is, probably not. There are a number of daunting obstacles present to making TI suitable for residence. Although State representatives have been successful in amending existing laws to allow development, there are a number of more practical considerations. The largest one is the seismic condition of the island. As stated before, TI is almost completely landfill. The costs of shoring up this landfill area are comparable to those for building a whole new island. Then there is the question of providing the level of services that residents of such a community would require. TI is very isolated – as any sailor who has been billeted there can tell you. The experience is akin to living in a very large lighthouse. While rudimentary service infrastructure already exists, it will have to be greatly expanded upon to serve any large residential development. This means that the costs will be very high. It is more than conceivable that such high service fees will eventually lead to TI residents suing for – and probably receiving – property tax relief. Thus San Francisco would be inducted into the dubious sisterhood of municipalities throughout the West contending with the deleterious effects of gated communities on their revenues and abilities to provide services.

These problems have yet to be addressed even now. Instead, Treasure Island has become something of a sinecure for inconvenient political figures who wish to cash in juice with the administration. When Brown was re-elected in 1999, he appointed the perennial political millstone Annemarie Conroy to be the nominal head of the city development effort. When current mayor Gavin Newsom needed to free up a seat on the Board of Supervisors, he moved Conroy to the directorship of the Emergency Services Office (which was then still considered a policy backwater), and placed the obstructive Neanderthal Supervisor Tony Hall as head of Island operations.

Hall turned out to be a loose cannon. His overly outspoken and free-spending ways soon led to clashes with City Controller Ed Harrington and, last month, Hall got the boot. And some consider the move to have come just in time: Hall’s idiotic shake-em-down attitude towards the film industry and his personality clashes with Navy officials ran the risk of TI being transferred back to other Federal agencies, or being sold back to San Francisco at a higher price.

Unfortunately, recent events have obscured any discussion of concrete plans for Treasure Island. And mind you – whatever plan is agreed upon, it’s going to require a lot of concrete.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Death Penalty and Tookie Williams

By the time you read this, Stanley “Tookie” Williams, the founder of the Crips, convicted robber, murderer, and drug kingpin, will have died, having been executed on the lethal injection gurney at San Quentin.

According to numbers recorded by the Department of Corrections, California will have executed 2 criminals in 2005. The last execution was of Donald Beardslee in January. The last executions before this year’s were one each in 2000, 2001, and 2002, and 3 in 1999 (technically it’s actually two; one was extradited to Missouri and executed there).

Executions in California are not quite yet routine, as much as the Department tries to make them so. Californians still debate the morality and utility of the death penalty every time we execute another inmate. But Williams’ execution has made the debate even more prominent because he’s been the subject of a campaign for clemency that has been publicized for years. The reasons claimed for clemency – the fact that much of the testimony against him is suspect and that he’s written several books that urge children and young adults to avoid the kind of life he led – have done much to publicize his plight.

The last execution which stirred this level of doubt was that of Robert Alton Harris in 1992, California’s first in over 25 years. In many ways the two cases couldn’t be more different from each other. Harris was a mildly retarded brute who killed mainly when poor tactical choices led him to no other option. Williams however, was regarded as a gifted operator who killed mainly to expand a burgeoning and deadly illegal enterprise, and his “reform” – despite the nine Nobel Prize nominations – is often described as a cynically overstated sham. But the social consequences of their executions will be similar.

With public attention focused upon California’s first execution in a quarter century, increasing the focus upon crime and police abuse, it’s no accident that barely 8 days after Harris’ execution, the lopsided verdict in the Rodney king police brutality case led to riots which immolated Los Angeles and threatened to scorch other major cities. The fact that our state was going to start executing people again, and that executions tend to fall disproportionately upon poor and non-white people was as much on peoples’ consciousness as was the aggrieved King. This despite the fact that Harris had put up no illusions of reform or self-insight as Williams has: his last meal was a pizza and a bucket of KFC and his last words were a cutesy rhyme. Williams is skipping his last meal and plans to die with some semblance of dignity, if there really is such a thing.

People are planning marches, vigils and protests, and some police are worried: some of the scuttlebutt going around Bayview station is that since the Tactical Squad is out patrolling the hood instead of the beat cops now suspended in the Videogate fracas, that tensions in that district may get out of hand.

Death penalty advocates quietly wish that all this societal hand-wringing would simply evaporate and that a just society would routinely snuff out murderers eye-for-an-eye style and thus deter further bloodshed. Opponents continue to wring their hands, arguing that killing someone who is no longer free to threaten others offends modern civil sensibilities.

Instead, both sides should be asking themselves not whether executions are moral, but frankly, whether they are practical. Because of the legal guarantees that we all rely upon to live in a free and civil society, executing criminals will always be more costly than simply locking them up. And I don’t just mean in dollars: there is a social cost as well – our multicultural and ideologically free society will always ensure that every execution will become an opportunity to impugn the integrity of government and instill hostility among the disenfranchised. Meanwhile the supposed benefits of capital punishment – the satisfaction of victims, its deterrent effect upon other offenders - are largely dubious.

The fact is, the only societies that can successfully live with capital punishment are authoritarian ones. With no due process there is no publicity, no delay, no cost, no social criticism; executions cause no problems. As societies become more open, the utility of the death penalty becomes more problematic. The problem is that we are a democracy, based upon individual rights. We can’t sentence anyone to anything with out a guarantee of remedy in case of error – and there is no way to unring the death bell.

The fact is that scum like Harris and Williams – and they are indeed scum – cost society even more when we execute them than when we simply lock them up.

Link: Joan Ryan - Suspend executions -- for now

h. brown: voice of the headless chicken

Left: online columnist h. brown

"Stupidity is the devil. Look in the eye of a chicken and you'll know. It's the most horrifying, cannibalistic, and nightmarish creature in this world."
    - Werner Herzog

San Francisco's political establishment likes their mascots. They especially like their mascots to be crazy and stupid. That's rather unfortunate, since it allows them to paint a disingenuous picture of the public as an ignorant rabble, when in fact we have one of the more intelligent - but unfortunately distracted - urban constituencies in the nation.
Many local politicians love to trot out various mascots as fake constituents at press conferences, public comment at hearings and the like, because they serve dual purposes: they give the politicians the illusion of public support while genuine public voices are alienated from the process, due to their natural reluctance to be part of a freak show.

Left: Frank Chu, before the Adidas Contract

That may sound harsh: the fact is most of these people really do care about the issues facing this city. They just aren't smooth or savvy or in some cases, even sane enough to carry a coherent political message, so they get misled by various people who are known for being able to trot out 500 people at City Hall hearings in order to scare commissioners into voting against the pet peeve of the week. But if you've been watching this scene as long as I have, you know as well as I do that a lot of these people are nothing but brainless starfuckers, and some are just plain walking freak shows.

As such, it's refreshing to watch the fur fly when one of them decides to pull a real boner and show exactly how disconnected their mouths are from their brains.
That's what the so-called "politics and art" blogger h. brown did over the weekend. In a column where he issues year-end grades for various members of the Board of Supervisors, he includes this precious jewel:

"Gerardo Sandoval, District 11 ... A-

For taking one for the team in fighting Donald Fisher pretty much alone. I feel almost responsible because I kept writing about the Jewish cabal of Fisher & Shorenstein & Blum & Goldman & Hellman and how they're playing Sim City with San Francisco. It's true that they think they're better than all of us. It's true that a big part of why they think they're better than us is because they're Jewish. That's all true. But, you better not say it if you have any property to lose. Or, a family to raise."

Of course, we all remember when Sandoval pulled a similar boner when he urged a crowd of labor protestors to "picket all the bosses' Bar Mitzvahs."

Unfortunately it is precisely this sort of eruption from the caverns of the banal that many insiders at City Hall like to throw in the face of the public. Keeping lots of shit around makes the eyes of the public water.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Scapegoat of the Week: Andrew "MC Powder" Cohen

Left: Andrew Cohen

SFPD Officer Andrew Cohen is our first ever Scapegoat of the Week. Having produced the presently-infamous Bayview Police Station Christmas Special, Cohen is one of 18 cops now suspended over the brouhaha.

What has been forgotten is that Officer Andy is a multi-talented individual. Not only can he video, he can rap!

Seems a few years ago Cohen got some GOOD press over his police work at Tenderloin Task Force, along with a rap record he cut as "MC Powder"; here's some of the lyrics, Check It:

"Here's another story from that bald anti-bandit MC Powder / talkin from the streets so I'll say it a little louder / along with the funky 5-0 crew / we've got a couple stories for you / you see we're everything to everybody everywhere all the time / be it a 187 or a domestic crime / disgruntled taxi driver and his fare in a fight / or a john being duped by a Polk Street troglodyte."

So now, our bud MC Powder is rapping the blues over the disrespect. Don't Fret, MC. You can pair up with that other Andrew on da mic from 'frisco, Drew Nasty, and go on tour! (I can just see Grandmaster Flash turning over in his crib, right about now. "Blondie, What You Done, Girl?!")

In Any Case, here's to MC Powder, our first Scapegoat of the week. Anyone wanna submit some appropriate rap lyrics? Send 'em on down, either on the Comments, on the Email or in the Forum! BOOYAKASHA!!!

Friday, December 09, 2005

San Francisco's Blue Balls Problem

Left: "The Devil Made Me Buy This Dress!"

It seems that this city has to have a police scandal of some kind every few years, which is then used to try and pry some changes inside a hidebound department, but usually only ends up with the replacement of a politically hapless police chief.

The newest scandal, of course, is about a series of blue humor videos produced for a Christmas party at Bayview station. The videos feature a number of sociocultural stereotypes reinforced by the basic nature of police work. The police officer/videographer made the mistake of putting some of the more humorous clips on a website, and then the leaks to the press and Mayor’s Office came-a-flowing.

There is nothing new about this phenomenon, nor about political bluenoses making a scandal out of it. What is truly unfortunate about this particular case is the timing, which seems rather deliberate.

Many people who are not police officers will find some of the imagery in these videos offensive. The question comes however, whether it should even be judged by standards outside the environment of what police work has become:

Excerpts from "You Might Be A Cop If..." You believe that 25% of people are a waste of protoplasm. You identify a negative "teeth to tattoo" ratio just by looking at a person. You find humor in other people's stupidity. You have ever wanted to hold a seminar entitled "Suicide, get it right the first time." You believe that "too stupid to live" should be a valid verdict. You have ever had to put the phone on hold, so you could laugh uncontrollably. You walk into places and people think it's high comedy to seize a co-worker and shout "they've come to get you, bill or fred, or whoever." People shout "I didn't do it!" when you walk into a room and they think it's original and hugely funny.

Police work by its very nature breeds both pathos and cynicism. In contrast, politics tends to ignore pathos and feed off of cynicism.

There is a bigger problem at work here, however. Last week, the mayor’s office pulled a boner its continuing struggle to implement “community policing” in San Francisco. As reported in the Sentinel, top aides agreed to policy recommendations made by what is essentially a constituency satisfaction committee, and they did this without the mayor’s or police chief’s knowledge. The recommendations not only seem to hark back to the old community relations model of police appeasement of pressure groups without actually changing police practices, they appear to undermine the very chain of command structure within the stations. This turkey was apparently accepted by mayoral aides who were a bit too eager to please and should know better. Chief Heather Fong rightly decided to reject the proposal, and the Mayor appears to have concurred with her decision.

This is a big issue. Much bigger than the tempest in the toilet bowl currently churning on our front pages. And that issue leads to even bigger issues.

The first issue is that the SFPD suffers from very specific institutional problems, which keep it alienated from the public it’s supposed to be policing, and keep it from developing innovative leadership and implementing modern policing strategies.

Much of this is caused by the reactionary politics of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, which represents all officers up to the Deputy Chief level. That should no longer be the case. Police officers from the rank of Lieutenant on up should be Members of the Municipal Executives Association, not the POA. This divorces police leadership from the reactionary concerns of line officers en masse and also allows the POA to free itself up to advocate for police working conditions as opposed to focusing on the arcane politics of agency leadership. It also allows police leadership to develop closer ties to the leadership of other city departments, and get a better feel for where crime impacts government.

Another big problem is the apparent lack of agency leadership with experience from outside SFPD. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Here comes the ghost of Charles Gain.” Not necessarily. The fact is Newsom might’ve been better off naming either Heather Fong or Greg Suhr as Chief at the beginning of his term as Mayor and bringing in an outsider as head of Patrol Division, such as former Irvine Chief Mike Berkow, who is now head of Professional Standards at the LAPD. Instead, Newsom blindly put his support behind Alex Fagan, who was already under fire for his son’s involvement in Fajitagate. When Chief Fagan himself imploded, Newsom (and Fong) were left at further political disadvantage.

Left: Charles Gain's (center, with Cecil Williams and Jim Jones on the right) ideological attempts to reform the SFPD are permanently associated in the mind of SFPD officers with the chaos of the '70s

The problem we have now is that we have a Police Chief in Heather Fong who knows and wants to do the right things, but is politically ineffectual. She is surrounded by enemies and knows it, and it limits her effectiveness. That fact that she put her foot down on the political sideshow in the Western Addition is promising. But people keep asking how long she can last.

The final problem is that Police managers and politicians in San Francisco need to understand exactly what “Community Policing” is supposed to be. It’s pretty clear that they don’t. Every program SFPD has enacted in this area, including current ones, are based upon the old “Community Relations” model and heavily gatekeeper driven. But THAT issue deserves a column of its own. Don’t worry, it’s coming.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Are Laptop Thieves Becoming More Brazen?

This Craigslist posting was recently distributed on the SF Indie Politics mail list:

For the second time in two months, I have been sitting next to someone
in a cafe whose laptop was literally wrenched out of their hands. The
first time was at Bean There on Waller and Steiner right before
Halloween, the second was today at Jumpin' Java on Noe near 14th.

In both cases, the culprits were trios of African-American teenagers,
usually dressed in black. Their standard M.O. is to enter the cafe, buy
something at the counter, then as they leave, to grab the laptop
computer nearest to the front exit before they dash out. The two who
took the laptop tonight had a third accomplice who drove a getaway car,
a weatherbeaten gray and black Honda Accord. Within minutes of the
first theft, they hit a second cafe not far away from the first.

The police on the scene mentioned that there has been a rash of these
thefts. A first group was caught earlier in the year, and now a second
group seems to have taken over. Any cafe within spitting distance of
the Fillmore district seems unsafe. Laptops are usually resold on the
street, or even in Oakland.

If you use a laptop in a cafe, you should be extremely careful. I am
probably going to buy a cable-lock for my own computer, which can be
locked to the leg of any cafe table I use. Avoid sitting near the front
door if using your cafe at a laptop. In both thefts I witnessed, the
laptops were both running on battery power, meaning that there were no
plugged-in cables to hinder the thieves from grabbing the devices.

And back up your data! Tonight's victim was a software developer who
told me the laptop was unimportant compared to the extremely valuable
data that was on it.

Any corroboration to this? I know your laptop is likely to disappear if you leave it for a while at Starbuck's but this is ridiculous...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

" Beaut Brute ", an installation by Taro Hattori

The guys at Rocketworld Gallery are hosting an exhibit by Taro Hattori, an installation, performance and video artist whose works reference pop-culture and banal artifacts to evoke emotional reactions to everyday experience.

"Taro Hattori riffs on how many of us aestheticize everyday-life devices, such as cars, tools and machine-guns, in an attempt to make our lives more fruitful. Hattori gives hunting and military apparatuses a radical make-over by taking these already beautifully designed and constructed implements and amping them up with 'super decorative and super powerful' surfaces befitting these 'elites of the world of contraption'”. (Francis McIllveen)

Check it out this Saturday: Rocketworld Gallery, 660 22nd Street (at Third)

Studio Islander

Unfortunate News Photo of the Week

From yesterday's Chronicle.

Story: Woman Crushed Under Wheels of MUNI Bus

Here Comes the Fudge

The Usual Suspects has picked up on those teaser ads in the Examiner featuring a rather solemn-looking picture of somnolent former Chronicle columnist Ken Garcia. Apparently, we can expect the Zam to play host to the snot-nosed homilies of the whiny Garcia very soon.

Maybe I'm being too hard on the guy. Garcia had a great run at the Chronicle. He was a great international reporter, and he broke into the perilous venue of local political writing in the late '90s with a great series on the tribulations of Golden Gate Park. In those articles he did a great job of putting the misguided ideological concerns, bureaucratic inentia, infighting, and incompetence, and just plain bizarre crackpottery that complicate the process of maintaining and improving the Park.

Garcia's early editorial columns rightly focused on the perils of San Francisco's NIMBY culture and leftist tokenism, and how they often made the City ungovernable. But his later columns had an unfortunate tendency to reek of nostalgia for an ancien regime that never truly existed. The politics of district elections seemed to transform Garcia from pragmatic moderate to reactionary NIMBY. A lot of what he did made political moderates look just plain ridiculous and divisive.

In any case, here's to Ken. Welcome back to the Breach. Pray for no Geritol jokes.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Monday, December 05, 2005


If you're reading this, you're probably wondering what's up. Let me explain.

A little over two years ago, I took over the tradition of hosting a chatboard on San Francisco politics. That tradition was started by Alex Clemens at The Usual Suspects, then carried over by Malik Looper. I started out with Chuck, and later broadened the team to include 7seconddelay and antfaber.

One thing about maintaining a chatboard on politics, especially San Francisco politics, is that while you're trying to maintain the atmosphere of a salon, it often feels like defending a castle under siege. I think we did pretty well, particularly since we more often then not were on the business end of the "Progressive" antiregime that governs San Francisco, mainly by veto and clusterfuck.

I've been thinking about this for a long time. As time went on, I've thought more and more about turning The Wall into more of a reference base for the folkways of local politics; something that is sorely needed as the brainwashed and the cynical always work to keep a lid on things, in order to keep things from being done. I've thought about helping set up a Wiki reference on the subject, and some other ideas; those are still on the table.

But one thing that is sorely needed is a voice for views which, in the commonly accepted rhetoric of our venue, are dubbed liberal and moderate. Anywhere else these viewpoints would be considered progressive and liberal. But here, in case you didn't realize it, things have to be different, even if they don't work very well. The Left has all kinds of mouthpieces online, as do the Right. The Middle is left with the Muddle.

San Franciscans are, slowly but surely, reaching for the middle. The biggest issue which has had resonance in this migration of opinion is homelessness, which has marked this city as a sort of Calcutta by the Bay, fueled by the progressive homilies of indulgence and neglect. Voters turned out for Care not Cash, and elected Gavin Newsom as mayor to tackle issues from a less strident, more pragmatic perspective. The result has been mixed, due mainly to Newsom having to work with the Muddle and pay lip service to the usual legions of the brainwashed and cynical.

The next big issue is crime. And that's a big one. At least with homelessness, people are only dying in slow motion.

It may very well be time for the Radical Middle to have its own singular voice here. And here, to stay in the middle, you have to be radical. The question is whether steering a chatboard is the best way to articulate that voice. It's a question I've been pondering for a while now.

So, over time I deliberately started to shake the tree. On the Wall, we had "Progressive" posters as well as other stripes, and since many of them couldn't stand the presence of more moderate voices, they would pull the usual tired trick of questioning motives. Well, I got tired of that. When I started The Wall as a chatboard, I stated up front that this would not be a permanent thing. I fully expected to hand over the torch to someone else. We broadened the moderation staff to include more moderate and progressive representatives. For a time this worked. However, as is usually the case with movements of a reactionary bent, progressives sided with progressives.

So I continued to shake the tree. And down came the fruit. Antfaber quit and started a new chatboard, something he's been itching to do for a long time. Good luck to him: he's gonna need it.

I encourage everyone who's posted on The Wall to post there. I am. I'm enjoying the hell out of it: it feels good to be on the offensive, and that's where we need to be.

The Wall will still link to the old forum, but it will be steered in another direction, to be an adjunct to what you see on this page.

What you'll be seeing on this page is a lot of me and also some other people. Hopefully that will also include you.