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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