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.

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