Friday, March 21, 2008

Accountability in Progressive Land

Marc Salomon's questions (below in italics) about how the city and the SF Bicycle Coalition managed/mismanaged the Bicycle Plan are out of focus:

Will the city attorney be held accountable for providing faulty legal counsel? Will the Planning Department’s office of Major Environmental Analysis be held accountable for incompetence on interpreting CEQA?

This assumes that the City Attorney and the Planning Department didn't understand that pushing the Bicycle Plan through the process without doing any environmental review was legally indefensible. Of course they knew that; they were only telling the Board of Supervisors what it wanted to hear, which is what they usually do on politically sensitive issues (e.g. the Housing Element, the handgun ban, gay marriage). The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the most important environmental law in California, has no enforcement mechanism except for litigation. The only recourse for citizens who think the city is violating that law---or ignoring it, which the city routinely does---is to hire a lawyer and take the city to court, an expensive, onerous project that not many people are willing or able to undertake.

Will the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition be held accountable for taking $250,000 and advocating an approach that turned out to be a long, expensive and ultimately dangerous dead end?

Yes, the Bicycle Coalition was given $250,000 of taxpayers' money to do the community outreach for the Bicycle Plan. (That original grant came from CalTrans; when it ran out, the SFCTA gave them another $50,000.) This was highly improper, since the SFBC is an advocacy group with a stake in the outcome of the process. The city itself should have done the outreach to avoid that obvious conflict of interest, but the city improperly treats the SFBC as if it's a city agency, even linking its website from city websites. Did the Bicycle Coalition understand the risk of proceeding with the Bicycle Plan without doing any environmental review? Hard to tell what the SFBC under Leah Shahum understands about CEQA, since their public statements accused us of distorting that law, an obvious absurdity, since the city simply operated on the assumption---almost always correct---that no one was going to challenge them in court.

But the city's unsuccessful strategy of trying to sneak the Bicycle Plan through the legal process was formulated by Dave Snyder, who was Executive Director of the Bicycle Coalition for years before Shahum's advent ("Nobody will contest this...").

The latest example of this approach is last November's Proposition A, which both Aaron Peskin and the City Attorney surely knew required an EIR before it was placed on the ballot.

Where’s accountability on striping?

(letter to editor
SF Examiner, March 21, 2008)

It appears that San Francisco will see five years elapse during which The City is prohibited from striping bicycle lanes (“JFK Drive remains void of visible lanes,” The Examiner, March 20). Flipped coins at each decision point would have determined a better path forward than advocates and staff handiwork.

Will the city attorney be held accountable for providing faulty legal counsel? Will the Planning Department’s office of Major Environmental Analysis be held accountable for incompetence on interpreting CEQA? Will the MTA’s Bicycle Program be held accountable for bungling the 2002 Bicycle Plan Update? Will the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition be held accountable for taking $250,000 and advocating an approach that turned out to be a long, expensive and ultimately dangerous dead end?

The current cast of insular, group-thinking “players” has stunningly failed San Francisco’s cyclists, because advocates defer to fearful staff to preserve their access. Bicyclists must demand accountability from city staff and paid advocates.

Marc Salomon
San Francisco

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10 Comments:

At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Tok DeLummen said...

Man, you really hate bikes don't you. Why can't you use your venom for something useful?

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Why can't you brush up on your reading skills? There's nothing in this post that indicates I "really hate bikes." What the post addresses is the political arrogance of city government in pushing projects through the process without the required environmental review.

 
At 9:02 PM, Anonymous those dudes said...

Rob,

Do you think CEQA, as it is currently designed to analyze transportation projects, is good/bad/neutral for California? Some have argued that CEQA is a very broad law that is ill-suited to analyze some project types, especially in urban areas, and that it is outdated. For example, while CEQA requires projects to account for their potential environmental impacts, it doesn't allow projects to report potential environmental benefits. What do you think should change in the way CEQA is currently set up?

 
At 9:29 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Lose Dudos:

Could you be more specific? I bet you mean the LOS analysis of traffic impacts doesn't give enough credit to the bicycle, that it should be okay for---just to pick an example at random---the Bicycle Plan to jam up traffic for motor vehicles to make bike lanes. Bullshit. CEQA is flexible enough to deal with any kind of project. You just follow the law and do a fucking EIR when it's obviously called for, instead of ignoring the law and hoping someone doesn't take you to court, which is the city's current approach to CEQA.

 
At 6:48 PM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

My question is, will YOU be held accountable the next time a cyclist in San Francisco >DIES< on an unimproved street because of your trollish and malevolent injunction?

There's a ring in hell reserved for you AND Mary Miles.

Want to join me for a latte sometime?

 
At 8:29 PM, Anonymous those dudes said...

Sure - let me be more specific: Do you believe that California benefits from CEQA or not? Many other states do not have similar environmental laws - do you think those states are better or worse off than California?

 
At 10:58 PM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

It was nice meeting you at the bike plan open house today, and I'm glad I got the chance to chat with you, if only briefly.

I have a feeling I'm going to eat my words from that previous comment (left during the meeting, in fact), but the latte offer still stands.

 
At 4:03 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Dudes:

Yes, CEQA is a good law, and California is better off for it. I don't know what other states do, but the idea of doing an environmental study to calculate possible impacts before implementing projects/developments seems like common sense to me. The bike people claim to be enviromentalists---have you heard? bikes don't burn fossil fuel---but they apparently think the 500-page Bicycle Plan should be exempt from CEQA, even though it's a major project that will affect traffic on many streets in the city. They especially don't like the Level of Service traffic studies---measuring the time it takes traffic to move through intersections---that are now required for projects in the city, including the Bicycle Plan. Without LOS studies, the city would be able to screw up traffic as much as they want---taking away traffic lanes---to make bike lanes. Getting rid of LOS studies is what the bike people call CEQA "reform"!

 
At 4:13 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Michael:
"My question is, will YOU be held accountable the next time a cyclist in San Francisco DIES on an unimproved street because of your trollish and malevolent injunction? There's a ring in hell reserved for you AND Mary Miles. Want to join me for a latte sometime?"
Your comment---a passive-aggressive classic---made me laugh. Consigning me to burn in hell, and, in the next sentence, inviting me to join you for a latte! My dear Michael, there has been one cyclist killed in SF in the last two years, and there's no indication that that the accident had anything to do with bike lanes. Fortunately, it's a rare occurrence. The way a lot of cyclists behave on city streets it's a wonder more aren't killed, but it has nothing to do with bike lanes.

 
At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Donald C. Crabtree said...

I couldn't agree with you more about the duplicity of the local pols on this bike lane situation. The removing of car lanes for bike lanes on Alemany has slowed everything down. The bike lanes are used for double parking and disembarking point for bad drivers; one driver is turning left, another right, throw in a pedestian and bike or two and all flow stops; plus, I've heard when the City put the bike lanes in, they timed the traffic signals for bikes! not cars! This is just one street in this City that's all fouled-up by this bike pushover. Another thing, why have bike lanes on the Embarcadero when they ride on the sidewalks? As a pedestrian I now have dreams of getting run-down not by a car, but a bicycle.

 

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