Monday, October 20, 2008

Left, right, and common sense

herman is my handle wrote (full text in italics below):
It seems to me that you're running against Mirkarimi and the rest of the board from both the left and right simultaneously. You're arguably attacking them from the left on housing and development, saying they shouldn't have approved downtown's plans for Rincon Hill, M/O, or the UC's profit motive at the Extension campus. Certainly a lot of SF progressives feel the same way, and generally speaking the progs on the Board gave into downtown on these developments.

Rob's reply:
Left and right have little relevance to local issues. I pride myself on having no ideology, which is only a hindrance to understanding local issues. (It's a hindrance to understanding national and international issues, too, but that's another story.) City progressives seem to think there's some ready-made progressive agenda on the issues, but there isn't. Does the fact that UC's housing development includes 80---out of 450---housing units for senior LGBTs make it a good development? Of course not, but Mirkarimi has used that to justify supporting this awful project, which trashes a state and national landmark and privatizes property that's been zoned for public use for 150 years.

If "a lot of SF progressives feel the same way" about these massive, destructive developments, they have been pretty quiet about it. When the Guardian mentions the Rincon Hill highrises, it's only to register an extremely lame dissent.

When the Guardian mentions the Market/Octavia Plan or UC's ripoff of the old extension property, it's supposedly all about affordable housing, though there's very little affordable housing in either project. There's been very little discussion of these issues, which is shocking in itself, since they are huge projects that are going to permanently change the city. Once hideous structures like Fox Plaza are built, there's nothing we can do about it.

herman is my handle wrote:
If you had actually won an election and were trying to win re-election, would you have been able to oppose these projects? Was it really pragmatically possible to oppose these projects categorically and survive? I may be cutting the 'progs' on the Board too much slack, and you can still call them out for hypocrisy if you want, since they certainly gave into downtown on these matters despite their own brave and noble self-image. But is it completely honest to suggest that you could realistically have done otherwise? Could you assemble a majority in any SF electorate that would survive your opposition to Rincon etc?

Rob replies:
What makes you think "downtown" has any influence in District 5, one of the most "progressive" districts in the city? Do you really think that Mirkarimi's re-election would have been endangered if he had voted against the Rincon Hill luxury highrise condos? That was a vote, by the way, that took place in 2005, early in Mirkarimi's term. Similarly, there would have been little political danger in standing up to a predatory UC, which has a reputation for heavy-handed real estate and development deals both in SF and in the East Bay. Voting against the Market/Octavia Plan would have required his standing up to the Planning Dept., which originated that ambitious, destructive project. Where's the political danger in standing up to a project that includes four 40-story highrises at Market and Van Ness? Mirkarimi has no independent judgment or political backbone on these issues. He's not a leader; he's running with the conventional wisdom of the prog pack---the Transit Corridors theory and---have you heard?---We Need Housing and the bicycle bullshit. Note that Mayor Newsom also supports all of these projects. Mirkarimi would have been taking no political risk by opposing any or all of them.

herman is my handle wrote:
Meanwhile, you oppose the Board progressives' embrace of the bike people. I'm fine with that, since the bike people are not talking about realistic steps to completely change the mix of vehicles on the road (a massive scooter and bicycle checkout system, like Velib in Paris), and as long as they're just talking about molding the roads to suit their own small constituency better, they don't have a real case. But it's interesting that you're attacking the Board progs for excessive idealism in the case of bicycles, and for excessive pragmatism in the case of the big developments.

Rob responds:
It's not about idealism versus pragmatism. Some projects are simply bad public policy and damage the city. In the case of the Bicycle Plan, what the city did---or tried to do before we busted them---was bad public policy that also happened to be illegal. Any project that might have a negative impact on the city's environment must have some kind of environmental review before it's implemented. I'm convinced that the city---and the Board of Supervisors---knew that; they just assumed they could get away with not doing what the law requires. Bad public policy, bad faith, and a violation of the law. That's not idealism in my book. All of the progressive supervisors who voted for these bad policies are in safe districts where it's unlikely many voters would have been upset about voting against oversized housing projects that include little affordable housing.


herman is my handle:
It seems to me that you're running against Mirkarimi and the rest of the board from both the left and right simultaneously. You're arguably attacking them from the left on housing and development, saying they shouldn't have approved downtown's plans for Rincon Hill, M/O, or the UC's profit motive at the Extension campus. Certainly a lot of "SF progressives" feel the same way, and generally speaking the progs on the Board gave into downtown on these developments.

On the other hand, it's easy for you to oppose these projects since you've never really tried to win 50%+1 in any SF district. If you had actually won an election and were trying to win re-election, would you have been able to oppose these projects? Was it really pragmatically possible to oppose these projects categorically and survive? I may be cutting the "progs" on the Board too much slack, and you can still call them out for hypocrisy if you want, since they certainly gave into downtown on these matters despite their own brave and noble self-image. But is it completely honest to suggest that you could realistically have done otherwise? Could you assemble a majority in any SF electorate that would survive your opposition to Rincon etc?

Meanwhile, you oppose the Board progressives' embrace of the bike people. I'm fine with that, since the bike people are not talking about realistic steps to completely change the mix of vehicles on the road (a massive scooter and bicycle checkout system, like Velib in Paris), and as long as they're just talking about molding the roads to suit their own small constituency better, they don't have a real case. But it's interesting that you're attacking the Board progs for excessive idealism in the case of bicycles, and for excessive pragmatism in the case of the big developments.

I doubt that Mirkarimi or the others are especially happy about the Rincon development, but for you to oppose it and criticize them for greenlighting it is kind of like Nader attacking Kerry for sucking up to corporate power. Both Nader and you are right. But you're both taking up lines of argument that are very easy to hold if you're not actually trying to win, and very very difficult to hold if you are. And you're both attacking your opponents as weaklings for giving in on a matter that you would almost certainly have to give in on as well, were you actually serious about winning.

Labels:

4 Comments:

At 4:34 AM, Anonymous herman is my handle said...

I figured you'd nail me for the left/right construction, and maybe even for the idealist/pragmatist construction, though I didn't think you'd do so on the front page. They're intellectual shortcuts obviously, and while neither was perfectly apt for the situation, I was trying to convey all across my comment that you've founded your campaign on a collection of your own opinions (both of which in this case I happen to agree with) that do not actually constitute the foundation of a realistic electoral coalition. You can't condemn everything the bike people want, AND everything the downtown developers want, AND expect to win 50% of the votes. You have to choose some friends, and Daly's pals (the bike people and their kin) and Newsom's pals (the downtown developers) are the only two well-organized non-ethnic political factions out there. It's true that an anti-"progressive", anti-downtown electorate could be built -- "don't stripe our streets OR drown us in condos, thanks!" -- but you'd have to build it from scratch, and you'd need a whole lot of scratch, probably your own, to do it. And you'd have to fight off attacks from both of the already-organized factions too.

Again, my point was that it's cool for you to attack the Mirk, but you're not attacking him from an especially politically tenable position, even if you do have a logically and morally tenable position. I imagine you know that, but it's kindof an important thing to acknowledge. Attacking someone who IS trying to win according to the standards that apply to someone who is NOT trying to win is not completely fair, unless you acknowledge the difference between you. Otherwise you become Nader attacking Kerry for selling out; well duh, of course Kerry was selling out, he was actually trying to become president while Nader was not.

And as for the idea that the Mirk could have opposed Rincon etc without penalty, or that downtown has no influence in D5, I'm skeptical of the former and absolutely sure the latter ain't true. Daly damn near lost to a third-string Newsom crony two years ago. He eventually pulled back into a ten point win (49 to 39), but he was polling even or behind a month before election day, after downtown and its allies dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Rob Black's campaign. And this was in D6, a hard-up district where Newsom's wealthy backers should have no pull at all. If downtown can reach into D6 and nearly elect the legislative aide to Michaela Alioto-Pier, then they should have no problem reaching into D5. They might not be able to actually elect the person of their choice, but they could certainly inflict some hurt on an incumbent who crossed them too hard -- that is to say, force him and his allies to spend a hundred thousand or more on defense. Cutting a deal and then getting out of the way, as Daly did on Rincon and as Mirk/Bevan did on UC, is a politically astute maneuver. Shining examples of moral strength they are not, but I don't see how you could argue that Mirkarimi or anyone else wouldn't suffer at all for standing in the way of these money factories, I mean developments. I'm going to guess that there was a reason the Board vote on Rincon was 10-1 in favor, and I doubt it was the greatly improved views of the Bridge.

I don't particularly like that this is true, but I think it is true, and an occasional nod in this direction would be gentlemanly, I think. (Not that you have any particular reason to accept advice from me.) These guys are playing a different game than you're playing, as far as I can tell, and it's possible to express your exact same criticisms in a way that recognizes that.

 
At 12:20 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Everything looks inevitable in retrospect. I've had other commenters lecture me that the Rincon Hill highrises were inevitable and hence progressive supervisors were thus justified in voting for them. Why piss against the wind? You'll only get wet.

But this kind of political behavior isn't the exercise of leadership; it's just going with the flow and running with the lemmings.

I'm not going to be defeated by Mirkarimi because of the stands I've taken on the issues. Few voters in D5 have ever heard any dissenting views on the bicycle fantasy or Ross's aggressively pro-development votes. You seem to be operating on the assumption that Ross and I are competing on a level playing field, which is ludicrous. He's the incumbent, a progressive icon in the district and the city, and has plenty of money to crank out those glossy doorhangers and mailers we all get in the district.

Voting against highrise development would have been a completely risk-free thing to do. Recall that Daly facilitated the Rincon Hill deal and the downtown folks still went after him. There's simply no evidence for the idea that Mirkarimi would have been vulnerable to some kind of recall if he had voted against Rincon Hill, projects that didn't need his vote to pass anyhow.

 
At 5:35 PM, Anonymous herman is my handle said...

I'm actually operating on the opposite assumption: that Ross is actually playing politics, whereas you're cranking out opinions on the sidelines. I think you know that you're just cranking out opinions, and that's fine, but it's not evident that you see that Ross is actually having to play politics, not just vote whichever way his conscience happens to move him that morning. Yes he voted for the big developments, but that's politics; on the entire board only one person (Ammiano) voted against. Getting in the way of money factories is not a good career move. You use your leverage, take your chunk of flesh out of the developer (Daly's affordable housing fund, Bevan's gay seniors setaside), and then let the good times roll.

That Daly was nearly defeated even though he was for Rincon does more to prove my point I think, not less. Downtown didn't actually expect to be able to defeat Daly, so instead of recruiting a real top-tier candidate, they went with a third-stringer and a moderate amount of cash, with the stated objective of hassling and irritating Daly, not defeating him (since they didn't think they could). They were surprised to find that their money went farther than they expected, and for a while there before Daly kicked his campaign into overdrive, he was down by 6. Even with an unserious candidate whom his own supporters expected to lose, downtown's money nearly won. If Daly had done something really aggressive, like block Rincon entirely, than he would have found himself the target of a much more serious campaign and a much more credible candidate, and he quite possibly would not have made it. The lesson of that campaign is that downtown nearly beat Daly when it wasn't even trying. (Although granted, most of the progs weren't too engaged until late either.) That's scary stuff, and it means that Mirkarimi would in fact be vulnerable to a very well-funded challenger if he actually made the mistake of sticking his neck out.

You say that kind of behavior isn't political leadership, but instead is just going with the flow, and I say exactly. That's what politicians do. You only pick the fights that you actually think you can win. If you pick a fight and you lose, meaning the project still goes through despite your serious attempt at stopping it, then you're fucked. You made yourself a whole bunch of serious enemies without getting any advantage in return for it, and showed yourself as an unable judge of your own strength as well. Sometimes you take a deliberate loss that you can also gain from, but if you fully intend to win something and lose, you've probably made an unforced and self-damaging error. For the most part, these guys only pick fights they think they can win, and for whatever reason, Rincon was not a fight they thought they could win.

Now that fact sucks. It's lame that the political coalition work hadn't been done beforehand to demand a comprehensive plan to significantly increase middle-income housing, in addition to "affordable" (low-income, if I understand correctly) housing, in exchange for greenlighting downtown's comprehensive plan to build nine or ten towers' worth of luxury condos. Since that coalition work wasn't done in advance (which would have had to unite the progs with the ordinary neighborhood types such as yourself), it was just Daly vs billion-dollar-developers, and Daly walked with $100m for low-end housing and called it quits. Failing to organize a more potent, and broader-based, coalition is what I would attack the progs for, rather than suggesting that they are in luvvvvv with luxury condos for the heck of it. These guys voted up Rincon and UC for ordinary hackish political reasons, and I think to make a real argument against them you have to take that into account, and then make a political argument back as to how they could have done better.

Saying that downtown could never hurt the Murk, or that he could have voted against UC or Rincon with no personal risk, misses the plot I think. Not only is the opposite true, but the opposite -- the fact that downtown and the big developers could hurt the Murk badly -- is the single most important reason why he voted the way he did. That's the key for understanding what he's doing, and the predicate for arguing what he could or should have done differently.

 
At 11:15 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Yes he voted for the big developments, but that's politics; on the entire board only one person (Ammiano) voted against. Getting in the way of money factories is not a good career move. You use your leverage, take your chunk of flesh out of the developer (Daly's affordable housing fund, Bevan's gay seniors setaside), and then let the good times roll."

You keep asserting without evidence the political danger the Murk would have faced if he had voted against the Rincon Hill highrises, that his vote was politically calculated. I don't think it was at all. The reality is that the Murk was just running with Daly, Peskin and the other prog lemmings on that issue. He didn't see the vote as problematic at all. If even Daly, in whose district the projects are, was for the highrises, the Murk surely figured he had his progressive ass covered.

The Murk's windbag leftist rhetoric, his anti-Americanism (The World Can't Wait, which compared Bush to Hitler), his support for anarchist Josh Wolf over city cop Peter Shields, the Mumia rant that's been on the Green Party's website since 9/11, and his support for Critical Mass and the entire SFBC agenda will be serious problems for him if/when he runs for mayor, not his pro-development votes, depending on who's running against him.

In fact city neighborhoods---the groups that successfully sued the city over the Housing Element--- should be wary of the Murk as mayor of SF, since he completely buys into the false Transit Corridors doctrine and the residential highrise fad advocated by the stupid new urbanists in our Planning Dept. Throw in the BRT and downtown subway boondoggles, and---again depending on who's in the race---and the Murk has plenty of problems presenting himself as a citywide candidate.

Besides, if Downtown wanted to punish the Murk for his voting record---a hypothetical, since, rhetoric aside, we both understand he's done nothing to upset conservatives since he's been on the BOS---who would they have run against him in D5? The 2004 race in D5 was an exercise in Group Think, even if you factor in the so-called moderates in that race. Except for me and Joe Blue, who was completely uninformed on everything, there was no plausible conservative voice at all in that race, and I'm a Democrat. There is no political figure in D5 that represents anything like a downtown perspective on the issues.

In reality the Murk has talked left while voting like a Republican on all development issues. Recall too that he and Gavin Newsom agree on almost everything, including the awful Market/Octavia Plan, UC's hijacking of the extension property, Rincon Hill, and all the bicycle bullshit.

Your notion that somehow he would have been vulnerable in D5 if he had voted against the Rincon Hill developments is completely unconvincing. The pathetic reality in D5 is that I'm the only consistent critic the Murk has, left, right, or center. Like in other parts of SF, the D5 political culture is moronic and virtually illiterate. It's all about bikes, tatoos, skateboards, and a shallow, callow brand of knee-jerk progressivism.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home