Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Matt Smith and Tim Redmond: peas in a pod

The SF Weekly and the SF Bay Guardian are competitors in the struggle for market share in San Francisco, but both weeklies are so erratic and unhelpful on local political issues they might as well be working for the same company.
 
In a Guardian cover story last week, Tim Redmond sounded a note of urgency in the struggle for affordable housing and against gentrification in the city: "This is the next battle for San Francisco. And there's no time to lose." This week Redmond doesn't even mention this great battle. Instead, the cover story is marijuana---always a popular subject in the city---and Redmond's editorial is all about the move to regulate pot clubs in the city. This has been the problem with the Guardian for years; instead of steady, consistent coverage of important issues from the city's leading progressive publication, we get a weekly that seems to have Attention Deficit Disorder: Issues raised one week are forgotten the next, only to be resurrected weeks or months later as though newly encountered. This has been the case particularly with the Guardian's coverage of the city's homelessness problem---here one week, gone from the Guardian's pages the next. With this kind of political commentary from their progressive weekly, it's small wonder that city progressives flailed about aimlessly on the homeless issue for years, until Gavin Newsom picked up the issue and rode it into the mayor's office, which prompted nothing but indignation and outrage at the Guardian.
 
And then we have the SF Weekly, which is only intermittently serious about local politics and issues. Matt Smith is the Weekly's man for heavy lifting on the city's political issues, and this week he returns to one of his favorite topics---the alleged deficiencies of Mayor Newsom and his policies. But his tirades on Newsom are so devoid of any factual basis it's hard to think that anyone but Tys Sniffen takes him seriously as a political commentator. He tries to assemble a laundry list of the mayor's political and personal failings: Newsom is a lightweight and a media slut; Newsom is a social climber; Newsom is screwing up the police department and Muni; Newsom is letting the parks go to seed. Newsom and homelessness? Forget it---nothing but "the meagerest of results."
 
People who read only the SF Weekly must have been astonished to see in Matier and Ross this week that the mayor enjoys an 86% approval rating. How can that be possible if Newsom is anything like the mayor Smith describes? Let's take a look at his brief against the mayor:
 
"Gavin Newsom has failed in every way to alleviate the city's housing shortage, declining for two years to appoint a planning director, and blocking efforts to plan for denser apartment buildings along transit corridors."

The reality is that the city's Planning Dept. is zealously pro-development, with or without a permanent director. The Better Neighborhoods program has marked off several large chunks of the city for overdevelopment and residential highrises, including the Rincon Hill area and Market/Octavia. More than 3000 highrise luxury condos are a done deal in Rincon Hill. Smith wrote a whole story on Rincon Hill but failed to even discuss whether this is the kind of housing the city really needs. Development along "transit corridors"? Smith advocates highrise apartment buildings on Fulton St. and Lincoln Ave. by Golden Gate Park, but that's not the kind of housing policy a shrewd politician like Newsom is likely to embrace. In any event, what has the mayor done to stop either Rincon Hill or the Market/Octavia Plan? Both of these projects advocate residential highrises. Nothing that I've heard about. In fact, Newsom agrees with Chris Daly on the shocking Rincon Hill condos and has done nothing to impede the misguided Market/Octavia Plan. The mayor is completely supportive of what I call the We Need Housing movement---the push to produce as much market-rate housing in the city as possible, neighborhoods be damned.
 
"Our transit system...is in a financial death spiral, as service cuts lead to reduced ridership, and the resulting reduced income from fares leads to budget shortfalls, which lead to more service cuts and still fewer riders."

Well, yes and no. Muni isn't going to die; it will survive this as it has every other recession in the last 75 years. But Smith doesn't mention the fact that Muni had a $57 million budget shortfall this year. In fact, every agency in the city had red ink this year, as the consequences of the dotcom bust and the 9/11 recession continue to ripple through the city's economy. Could that be the reason Muni raised fares and cut service? Smith suggests instead that Muni's problems are the mayor's fault, even though, in the end, the mayor and the Board of Supervisors agreed on a budget to deal with all of the city's red ink. In any event, Smith has no credibility on Muni after telling his astonished readers recently that the 38 Geary line is not used very much.
 
"The city two years ago elected a government leader with absolutely no interest in politics or policy. Yet Mayor Gavin Newsom is a savant at maintaining a celebrity image and earning the fond media coverage that goes along with it."

The notion that a mayor with an 86% approval rating in a city as fractious politically as San Francisco has no interest in politics is ludicrous on its face. Newsom is a shrewd political operator, not just a media manipulator, though he's good at that, too. He not only used the homeless issue to get himself elected mayor, he---along with Angela Alioto---took the time to study the issue and come up with a plausible, long-term strategy for dealing with it---the supportive housing, Ten Year Plan none of his critics like to talk about.
 
So there we have it: Tim Redmond and Matt Smith, the political editors of our two weeklies who live in an alternate universe, only intermittently touching down to encounter the realities the rest of us face in San Francisco. Maybe they are actually the same person, which would explain a lot. Has anyone ever seen them together?

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