Matt Smith, Art Agnos, and the End of History
Smith pushes former mayor Art Agnos to the fore as an exemplar of the kind of leadership SF needs. Agnos supposedly won't run against Mayor Newsom this year because he thinks city politics and issues are trivial---Smith uses "twee" to describe our political struggles---and beneath the consideration of someone like Agnos, who Smith thinks has "gravitas." After all, Agnos just got back from Sierra Leone:
"Twenty-five percent of children in that country die before age 5. Seventy percent of the people are unemployed...I saw more pet clinics for dogs and cats than I did health clinics in that country for human beings. We have emergency pet clinics. Jesus Christ! Then I drove by 14th Street and Howard, and there's a billboard for the Wag Hotel for dogs and cats. Rooms are $80 per night with a la carte extras that include an evening stroll for $15, belly rubs for $20." So it was that San Francisco lost one of its last remaining progressive hopes to confront incumbent Gavin Newsom in November's mayoral election, because Agnos had determined San Francisco had become so twee a place that it wasn't worth his time and energy.
Bullshit. Agnos simply understands that he would have been buried by Newsom, since many city voters remember the homeless encampment at Civic Center during Agnos's tenure as mayor. Agnos commissioned a poll of city voters before he left for Sierra Leone, and I was among those called to answer questions he wanted answered before he ran against Newsom. As a Newsom supporter, my answers would have given little comfort to Agnos. One of the questions asked was whether I remembered the Civic Center homeless encampment when Agnos was mayor, but I had to tell the pollster that I wasn't living in the city at the time, but I bet enough city voters remember to give Agnos pause.
Dealing with homelessness the last several years has been one of Newsom's strengths, but it wasn't for Agnos when he was mayor. How would he have approached the homeless issue in a campaign against Newsom? By claiming that he could do it better than Newsom's Care Not Cash, Project Homeless Connect, Homeward Bound, and supportive housing? That would have been a hard sell, which is a likelier explanation for his decision not to run, not our alleged "preoccupation with trifles," as Smith would have it.
SF is struggling with homelessness, gun violence, affordable housing, traffic, unemployment among young black people, Muni, etc. These problems aren't serious enough for Art "Gravitas" Agnos to tackle?
Smith rarely does any real reporting and specializes in fact-free rants. He cites Fukuyama without naming the book that made him famous---or using any direct quotes---because the citation is pseudo-intellectual flim-flam to dress up a dumb argument. (His other citation is an article in The Economist, but he gets the date of publication on wrong.)
We're becoming an American version of Monte Carlo or Venice. These are cities preserved as they were aeons ago for the benefit of tourists, where the only locals are rich holdouts with a keen taste for stasis...The 2000 exodus of young people was permanent; the percentage of San Franciscans in their 20s has dropped by more than a third since the dotcom boom. The city has fewer young people, poor people, black people, Latino people, and fewer families of any race.
The city's ongoing gentrification isn't news to anyone who lives here, and the claim that there are fewer young people in the city doesn't ring true. Seems like there are a lot of young people everywhere I go in SF; it would have been nice if Smith gave us a citation for that claim. Yes, gentrification in SF is alarming, just as it was in what Smith sees as the glory days of the dotcom boom:
The city's potentially best, brightest, youngest, and most culturally and racially diverse---but, alas, not richest---are setting stakes instead in Oakland and Sacramento. To lure these people back would require an apartment-building boom the likes of which the city hasn't seen since early this century in order to solve a price-goosing apartment shortage of between 30,000 and 70,000 units. The city's dynamism-loathing majority population has indicated on countless occasions that it would never countenance such a project.
Where does Smith get the 30,000-70,000 number? From the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), which is also cited by the Planning Dept. to justify its aggressive pro-development push for market-rate housing in SF (Rincon Hill, Market/Octavia Plan, the UC proposal for the old extension property, the Mid-Market Plan, the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, etc.) In short, the city is already doing exactly what Smith wants it to do---encouraging the construction of thousands of new market-rate housing units hoping that will bring housing costs down.
Where and when has anything like a "dynamism-loathing majority" shown itself in San Francisco? Could we have a single example of this? Unfortunately, there's little dissent on the Board of Supervisors about the Planning Dept.'s aggressive pro-development policy. Even the board's lefties like Chris Daly and Ross Mirkarimi endorse this Free Market approach to housing in SF---build a whole lot of housing, with a certain percentage of the units allegedly "affordable"---a word that should always be in quotation marks in SF---and maybe prices will go down for everyone.
Smith laments the fact that "the city's greatest vitality is in its dramatically rebounded tourism industry." Again, this is old news. Tourism has been the city's leading industry for decades, long before the dotcom bust and 9/11.
Smith ties up his fact-free rant with what he thinks is an example of how some in the city are hindering "historic progress": Cynthia Servetnick takes him on a tour of the old UC Extension site on lower Haight St. that UC wants to turn into a massive housing project. Servetnick and some of us think that the UC project is way too large, that the property---zoned Public Use for 150 years---should be retained for public use, that the historic buildings should be preserved, that UC lied about why it stopped using the site and simply wants to cash in on property it has had tax-free for 50 years. Smith mentions none of this in his stupid, ugly hit on Servetnik.
Yes, gentrification is transforming the city alarmingly, but Cynthia Servetnick is not the problem. She's only trying to save what little public space there is in that part of town from a greedy UC. In fact, the UC development is typical of how the city is approaching housing development---recklessly approving large housing projects with no consideration for traffic, Muni or the quality of life of that part of town, which is further threatened by Planning's Market/Octavia Plan that will rezone thousands of parcels to encourage population density in that area, including 40-story highrises in the Market/Van Ness area.
The truth is that Smith, like the rest of us, doesn't really know what to do about gentrification in San Francisco. How can we preserve our neighborhoods and, in a market economy, still produce large quantities of affordable housing? If he had said that, Smith would at least have been intellectually honest, instead of producing an ugly, ill-informed hit-piece like this.
For the history and context of UC's attempted land-grab, click on "UC Extension" below.