Saturday, November 12, 2005

"Anti-car conspiracy": Hinckle joins the struggle

Photo from Bay Citizen

As one of the Bicycle Coalition's few critics in San Francisco, District 5 Diary was surprised and pleased to read in the latest Argonaut that Warren Hinckle too is increasingly concerned about the undue influence that bike zealots have on city policy. The Hinkster describes this movement:

[T]he anti-car conspiracy...a fifth column in city government of mid-level planners and sundry bureaucrats who are possessed of an ideology about San Francisco becoming a carless society...One part of this crowd is the Bicycle Mafia---bicycle enthusiasts have cowed city planning and the Board of Supervisors into illegally changing the city's Master Plan and changing traffic routes in favor of bicycles without public notice...eliminating parking wherever possible, changing street designs, etc. ("Anti-Car Conspiracy," Argonaut, Dec. 2005).

Actually, "conspiracy" isn't the right word for how the bike zealots in SF operate, and "Bicycle Mafia" is hyperbole, more or less. Instead, the bike zealots have essentially won the battle of ideas by default at all levels of city government, including the Board of Supervisors---so far, at least. But the counter-attack is well underway, led by, among others, yours truly at District 5 Diary, articulating the notion that cyclists are taking up way too much room in the city's political life---and, increasingly, on its streets. Hinckle makes an important point when he characterizes these folks as being as much anti-car as they are pro-bike.

In any event, their strategy is to make it as difficult and expensive as possible to drive and park a car in San Francisco---raising parking fees, meter fees, parking fines, removing parking whenever and wherever possible, especially in new housing units, even though city law sensibly requires that builders provide a parking space for each new housing unit built. They didn't really have to do much convincing to get the Board of Supervisors to vote unanimously to make the 400-page Bicycle Plan part of the General Plan---not the "Master Plan"---because there was no debate, except for the negative input they got from me and a few other folks just before they held the lemming-like 11-0 vote.

But the anti-car bike zealots haven't really "cowed" city government as much as they have completely co-opted and occupied it with like-minded folks. Until recently they have had things pretty much their way.

But the Bicycle Coalition is getting some stiff opposition to their attempt to convert traffic lanes into bike lanes on Cesar Chavez St, an east-west thoroughfare that runs from the freeway in the Mission to Noe Valley (see "Bikes vs. Cars on Chavez," Carolyn Jones, SF Chronicle, Oct. 7, 2005). And their attempt to foist bike lanes on Japantown on Post St. was firmly rejected by that community a few years ago: "The [Bicycle] Coalition has been pushing its plans to re-stripe Post Street...despite the community's continued opposition." (Japantown Task Force newsletter, Summer 2003)

And there were the short-lived traffic circles on upper Page St. that actually made those intersections more dangerous for everyone.

But the most serious and ongoing bad PR for the bike fanatics is the new freeway ramp across from Octavia Blvd. on upper Market St. It turns out, so to speak, that you can't make the logical right turn from Market St. onto the freeway, because last year the bike zealots got Matt Gonzalez to help make sure motorists have to detour and enter the ramp from Octavia Blvd: 

City traffic officials didn't buy into their[Bicycle Coalition's] demand for a right-turn ban. So the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and others took their case to the Board of Supervisors, where then-board President Matt Gonzalez carried legislation in August 2004 to ban the right turn...(Bicyclists vs. Drivers---Who's in the Right?, Matier and Ross, SF Chronicle, Sept. 21, 2005).

The "legislation" was actually a resolution by the Board of Supervisors, resolution 0508-04, Aug. 17, 2004), but evidently it was enough to get the job done---and get it done with seeming permanence, even though, according to the resolution, the no-right turn ban is supposed to be a six-month trial, during which the Dept. of Parking and Traffic is to collect data:

Further resolved, that the Department shall collect data related to traffic, bicycle, and pedestrian safety and flow during the first six months of the opening of the freeway ramp, and shall make adjustments to and shall implement any additional traffic control devices and signage as necessary to maximize the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists through the intersection, and the Department shall report its findings to the Board of Supervisors at the end of that period.


We'll track this and look for the report from DPT to the BOS around March of next year. One thing the study won't be able to quantify, however, is the sheer number of city motorists they're pissing off with this foolishness. But the Bicycle Coalition, in the person of spokesman Andy Thornley, is unrepentant and even wants to escalate the punishment for motorists who try to turn right onto the freeway with "strict enforcement with pretty harsh fines." (Matier and Ross)

This is the same Andy Thornley who told the SF Bay Guardian earlier this year that "We've done all the easy things so far. Now we need to take space from cars." (The Slow Lane: In Bike-Friendly SF: Why Do Cars Still Come First? SF Bay Guardian, Steven T. Jones, May 18, 2005) "Take space from cars" means converting traffic lanes into bike lanes and eliminating parking spaces whenever possible.

This kind of arrogance makes the the Bicycle Coalition vulnerable to a political backlash in a city that, according to the DMV, has 464,903 registered autos, trucks, and motorcycles/motorbikes. It's a specialized, bike nut version of one of those "circular firing squads," in Bob Haaland's phrase, that progressives like to form in San Francisco.

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Newsom on Prop. H: "I'm having a difficult time with it..."

Words of wisdom from Robert Haaland: "We need to do our best to let issues inform our politics, not personalities. None of us are perfect in this regard, but we need to stop making our decisions based on who we hate or like. Letting political grudges dominate our decision-making hurts us in the long run." (www.sanfranciscosentinel.com)

And unwise words from Mayor Newsom on Proposition H, the handgun ban:

"It clearly will be thrown out," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom on Friday, adding that he planned to vote for the measure anyway to show his opposition to the proliferation of handguns. "It's so overtly pre-empted. I'm having a difficult time with it, and that's my one caveat. ... It's really a public opinion poll at the end of the day.'' (SF Chronicle, Nov. 5, Will Voters Deem SF a No-Guns-Allowed City?, Celia Vega)

Where exactly does the mayor's legal clarity on gun control come from? Is it possible the mayor is denigrating Prop. H because his primary political antagonist, Supervisor Chris Daly, is its author and prime mover? When he began sanctioning gay marriages in the city last year, Mayor Newsom, after all, showed little concern for mere legalities, even though Californians had alreadly enacted Proposition 22, the Defense of Marriage Act with 61 percent of the vote in March, 2000. I support gay marriage and gun control, but the latter seems more likely to weather litigation than the former.

Proposition H, on the other hand, was carefully drafted to avoid the legal pitfalls that doomed an an attempt a generation ago by the city to ban handguns.

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Regulating pot clubs: Mirkarimi takes the lead

It's still a long way off, but city politicians and political junkies are already thinking about the next mayoral campaign in 2007. From the San Francisco Sentinel:

The Sentinel asked whom Mirkarimi considers credible challengers to Newsom. "I haven't given it any thought (laughter). You know, I'm not even thinking about that. And I'm sure they're not either." (laughter)
 
Last Thursday night at the HANC (Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council) meeting, Supervisor Mirkarimi scored some early points in that hypothetical campaign. After years of what he called "complacency" by city government, Supervisor Mirkarimi is taking the lead in formulating city regulations to govern SF's many marijuana clubs. (Supervisor Daly, on the other hand, seems more interested in creating obstacles to regulation, while Mayor Newsom showed little interest in the issue until a marijuana club tried to locate in a building housing some Care Not Cash clients.)
 
Mirkarimi is putting in long hours as supervisor, evidently attending one meeting after another well into the night. During his introduction, it was noted that the HANC meeting---which started at 7:00 p.m.---was only the third of six events he was scheduled to attend that night. Speaking as part of a forum that included two patients, a worker from a club, and a member of a neighborhood group opposing a club in the Mission, Mirkarimi told the gathering that he's been interested in the marijuana issue for a long time, dating back to the Terry Hallinan's 1995 campaign for District Attorney, when one of the campaign planks called for outright legalization.
 
Responding to what he called "a groundswell of concern" in the city's neighborhoods, Mirkarimi has taken the lead on an issue that, as he pointed out, no one else on the board was willing to take on. And he has done so to defend the idea of medical marijuana and to create a "patient-centered" system that will be a "best practice" model for the whole state, while, at the same time, not giving the Feds an excuse to intervene. Mirkarimi also took the lead on imposing the present moratorium---there were 12 more clubs poised to open before the moratorium---on new clubs in the city while the regs are formulated. The idea, according to the D5 Supervisor, is to set a "high bar" for new clubs with regulations that the Planning Dept. and the Dept. of Public Health will enforce. The proposed regulations include banning clubs near schools, playgrounds, and recreation centers; "empowering" neighborhoods by notifying residents and merchants before a new club opens; and requiring either a conditional use permit or mandatory discretionary review for new clubs, along with an appeals process. The Murk is looking for a balance between conservatives who want the clubs closed down and those on the fringe left who oppose any regulation. Once that balance is achieved, Mirkarimi figures the city will have regulations that won't completely please anyone, which probably means it will be a good law.
 
Responding to concerns about armed robberies at some of the clubs, Mirkarimi noted that his proposal includes mandatory background checks and security systems for the clubs. Presently the SFPD has been giving the clubs a wide berth, because they've been receiving mixed messages from the city. Sensible regulations will, as the Murk pointed out, bring the clubs---or "dispensaries," as he calls them---out of the legal shadows. He claimed that the worst thing the city has done to both the medical marijuana movement and the city's neighborhoods is to allow the clubs to operate thus far with no regulation.
 
Interestingly, Mirkarimi said that there have always been enough votes on the Board of Supervisors to pass controls on the clubs but that "nimbyism" among the supervisors---most districts have few, if any, clubs---made proposed zoning regulations a sensitive subject for supervisors who are, after all, elected from districts. Mirkarimi said his proposals may come back to the board soon for a vote, but the status of the CEQA suit initiated by Bill Barnes is unclear at this point.
 
All in all, it was a credible performance by Supervisor Mirkarimi, who has had a tendency in his first year in office to enlist in half-assed and misguided "progressive" projects, like the anti-widening of MLK Blvd. campaign, the emerging traffic/planning fiasco in the Market/Octavia neighborhood, and making the Bicycle Plan part of the General Plan with no environmental study and little debate. But Mayor Newsom is also running with the progressive lemmings on these issues. And both Mirkarimi and Newsom support the construction of 3000 luxury condos in the Rincon Hill area. By taking the lead on regulating the city's pot clubs, Mirkarimi can at least begin the process of defusing the left's main area of political vulnerability in San Francisco, which is on quality of life issues---homelessness and squalor on the streets, graffiti/tagging, Critical Mass, and, until now, the marijuana "dispensaries."

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