Thursday, July 10, 2014

Joel Engardio and the "moderates"

A political tendency called "SF Moderates" introduces itself with these bromides:

We want San Francisco to be a city that champions innovation, encourages smart economic growth and offers opportunity for newcomers. We celebrate art and culture, value compassion, seek sustainability and practice social justice. We also want the buses and trains to run on time, our parks to serve an urban population and our public schools to work for families. We support a city government that is efficiently managed, responsive to quality of life issues and above all follows common sense.

Wanting city "trains to run on time" has unfortunate historical associations, but the rest of that paragraph is sheer banality. Only members of the new caliphate in the Middle East would object to any of it.

That's followed up with this:

As SF Moderates, we are truly progressive by dictionary definition. We are forward-thinkers who advocate for progress. We embrace change that can improve lives. Too often, San Francisco’s so-called progressive establishment fights to keep things as they were, promoting failed policies that only make living here more difficult. In San Francisco, moderate means common sense. We’re socially liberal and fiscally responsible. We are sympathetic to both sides of an issue as we seek pragmatic solutions that work for everyone.

More cliches along with a claim about the definition of "moderate": "we are truly progressive by dictionary definition." Not according to my dictionary, which defines moderate as "avoiding extremes."

What they're really trying to do is distinguish themselves from something called the "progressive establishment," but without any specifics it's hard to know who or what they're talking about. You have to explore their website and read Examiner columnist Joel Engardio's entries to find out what's intended here.

Engardio is gay, so that's where the "socially liberal" comes in. And presumably these folks aren't racists, are pro-choice, prefer peace over war, etc. etc.

Engardio wrote a column for the Examiner last month (Rallying cry for SF's moderates) that he seemed to think is a manifesto for so-called moderates:

In any other city, I’m considered liberal. I support health care as a right, Hillary Clinton for president and same-sex marriage in every state. I believe that we must address climate change and spend more on education than the military. But it doesn’t matter in San Francisco: I’m still not blue enough for the “progressive” label here.

Okay, this is familiar turf, and I could say something similar. But this is still bland, unobjectionable stuff. The real, defining crunch comes on specific local and state issues, which is really how people differentiate themselves politically in San Francisco.

Engardio tells us he supports Laura's Law, which was just passed by the Board of Supervisors and is also supported by many progressives:

I want a City Hall that is willing to shut down boondoggles and fund only what’s necessary and effective. I’m for schools that families can walk to and local enforcement of Laura’s Law. To me, it is humane to compel mentally ill people to seek treatment instead of letting them continue to suffer psychotic episodes in public. This is what makes me a “moderate” in San Francisco regardless of how much I value compassion, seek sustainability and practice social justice. Anyone feel the same?

Yes, just about everyone agrees, Joel. No one advocates wasting money, everyone wants good neighborhood schools, and Jennifer Friedenbach is one of the few people in the city who opposes giving Laura's Law even a trial run.

Going deeper, if that's the word we want, into Engardio's moderate manifesto we begin to get an idea of where he's coming from:

Consider the housing crisis. Progressives refuse to build enough housing for a growing population. They seem to want to preserve an idealized version of The City, as if economic principles don’t apply and San Francisco will never evolve or reinvent itself again. I wish we could acknowledge our supply-and-demand problem and make it easy to build housing of all types. An adequate supply would actually help the middle class afford to live here.

This is a familiar trope used by folks like the Chronicle's C.W. Nevius and SPUR's Gabriel Metcalf, that there are organizations and individuals that have been fighting the construction of new housing units in San Francisco, thus aggravating our chronic shortage of affordable housing.

Like Nevius and Metcalf, Engardio doesn't name anyone or any organization guilty of this because there are none. It's all bullshit. The only thing that's slowed down the boom in housing construction has been the Great Recession, which made it hard for developers to get construction loans.

Now that the construction boom is on again, San Francisco is "evolving" with a more thorough gentrification process, even though it's doubtful that we can build our way out of the affordability crisis.

Engardio tips his hand: "Instead, we opt to build nothing on windswept parking lots because we fear a boogeyman wall on the waterfront." Turns out that Engardio and his "moderate" allies supported the 8 Washington project that went down to a resounding defeat at the ballot box. Evidently city voters don't want to "reinvent" the city by raffling off the city's waterfront to developers and rich people.

Engardio on city schools:

Innovative policies could benefit our public schools. There’s a reason nearly one-third of San Francisco’s children go to private schools. We need more public immersion schools in language, arts and technology---the programs parents are seeking elsewhere.

Another reason that many city parents send their children to private schools: they have the money to do it, another consequence of gentrification.

We can support small businesses while allowing the chain stores people actually want. Urban parks can have multiple uses, including turf fields for soccer-playing kids. Neighborhoods can survive some added height and density near public transit to provide much-needed housing...That’s why I’m a moderate. A socially liberal and fiscally responsible moderate who is opened-minded and imaginative enough to understand that no revolution is San Francisco’s best or last.

Specifically which "chain stores do people actually want"? Evidently Starbucks and chain pharmacies and supermarkets are okay. Does Engardio want to add to the list? He apparently supports installing artificial turf at the soccer fields near Ocean Beach. 

And, like other so-called moderates---and city progressives, by the way---he supports the dense development, "transit corridors" planning theory favored by City Hall that assumes we can build a lot of housing along any major Muni line.

Engardio opposes "boondoggles," but he wants to build a tunnel under Geary Blvd. to the avenues so the city can implement the transit corridors theory on a massive scale:

Given San Francisco’s housing crisis and traffic congestion, if you had $1.6 billion to build a tunnel, where would you put it? I’d start digging down Geary Boulevard, from downtown to the Outer Richmond. Then I’d encourage construction of multistory, middle-class housing along the way with vibrant ground-floor retail. A subway would save commuters from the cursed 38-Geary bus, which crawls along miles of failed car-first planning from the middle of the last century. But a Geary subway won’t happen anytime soon. Too many San Franciscans deplore change and defend “neighborhood character” as never better than the day they arrived. Geary isn’t purposely retro or shabby chic. It’s just worn and dated.

$1.6 billion wouldn't get you very far, since that's the official price tag for the two-mile long Central Subway, which will surely end up costing $1 billion a mile. A tunnel under Geary would cost billions and be a major boondoggle.

Instead, the city is planning a BRT system for Geary, since the #38 now carries more than 50,000 passengers a day and Geary itself handles more than 65,000 vehicles every day. People in the avenues are already wary of City Hall's development plans for their neighborhoods, suspecting that the BRT system will be another opening for the city's---and Engardio's---dumb "smart growth" development theory.

Engardio's slur on the #38 Geary Muni line is typical of someone who doesn't ride it much. It actually moves pretty well, except in the avenues, where there are stop lights/stop signs at every intersection, which is one reason designing a sensible BRT system for Geary is so difficult.

Engardio's spine goes all wobbly when he interviews Quentin Kopp. What does the bold moderate who opposes boondoggles think about the high-speed rail project? Apparently the subject never came up, since it's not mentioned in the piece! Instead Engardio devotes most of the column to Kopp's original opposition to gay marriage.

But the radically flawed high-speed rail project has been a major concern for Kopp in recent years (Kopp, by the way, also opposes the Central Subway). Since he was an early supporter and a former chair of the High-Speed Rail Authority and wrote the project's original legislation, Kopp has a lot of credibility on the issue: see this and this.

In spite of his sneer at what he calls the city's "progressive establishment," Engardio doesn't really disagree with any major City Hall policies. He would just pursue them more aggressively.

Engardio's columns and op-eds here.

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At 12:59 PM, Anonymous Vince said...

"Geary isn’t purposely retro or shabby chic. It’s just worn and dated."

...and obviously serves the wrong kind of folk. Engardio should just man up and tell us whom he wants in the city and whom he doesn't.


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