Saturday, December 17, 2005

Stephen Willis: "You Don't Know Jack..."

"Rob, you and others can try to frame the debate by labeling transit, bicycling and pedestrian safety advocates as 'anti' car, if you want. But it's completely disingenuous."

I judge people by what they do, not just by what they say. Of course the bike fanatics never say they are anti-car, but their actions show otherwise. You are a good example: You opposed the garage in Golden Gate Park, and you oppose the Hastings garage. What a coincidence! Hastings has 1300 students and faculty, so a garage---built on their own property---makes good sense for that part of town. UC's plan to turn the old extension site on lower Haight St. into a large, for-profit housing development is indeed an attempt to privatize property that has been zoned Public Use by the city for almost 150 years. 

The garage under the Concourse in Golden Gate Park, built entirely with $40 million in private donations, will be turned over to the city when the construction bond is paid off with the parking fees. That's not "privatization"; that's a gift. The garage is being "privatized" the same way the new de Young has been privatized---a city-owned institution that was rebuilt with private donations of $200 million, another gift to the city.

"You don't know jack about what's been going on in the Park. And your false assertions don't even merit a response. Boriiiing."

Could you be more specific about my alleged "false assertions" on the park? The last time we had an exchange on the Concourse/MLK issue, you called me names and injected extraneous issues into the discussion, which made you look, well, "disingenuous." (Interested readers can check out that exchange and judge for themselves.)

Stephen Willis wrote:

This is a righteous campaign to stop the privatization of yet another important historic San Francisco landmark and public educational resource. Spread your message far and wide and build your coalition now, because you are taking on the same power structure that is forcing a disastrous and insane 450 space UC Hastings parking garage at Golden Gate and Larkin Streets. Transit First City? Right. Many San Franciscans felt similarly about the once historic features of the Golden Gate Park Music Concourse, including three, century-old pedestrian tunnels that were privatized (transferred into private corporate hands) and then immediately demolished to make way for the cheapest underground parking garage that Bechtel could possibly design.

PS - Rob, I disagree with you on almost every other thing, but you are right on the mark opposing this theft of a public resource. Have you thought about dedicating yourself to this campaign, and quitting your writing about transit? Just asking.

Rob Anderson wrote:

Why am I not surprised that you are part of the anti-car, anti-parking jihad in SF? It's "insane" to build a parking garage in a city with more than 460,000 motor vehicles? It's insane to not provide adequate parking. UC is building a garage on its own property; the garage under the Concourse in Golden Gate Park will be owned by the City of San Francisco when the construction bond is paid off. There is no public money invested in the Concourse garage. The pedestrian tunnels on the Concourse were made of unreinforced material and had to go. They were just plain "old," not "historic." No, I'm not going to "dedicate" myself to anything but this blog and writing about SF politics from my bunker deep inside District 5. Just answering.

Stephen Willis wrote:

Rob, You and others can try to frame the debate by labeling transit, bicycling and pedestrian safety advocates as "anti" car, if you want. But it's completely disingenuous. The fact is that most of "us" are drivers too, at some time or another, just like you, and not at all unsympathetic to the plight of drivers in San Francisco. WE are all in this transportation mix together. Think about it. For every bike out on the street, there is that much more room for motorists, as well as MUNI to get around smoothly without becoming congested. Efficient transit and bicycle routing will overwhelmingly improve conditions for motorists as well. 

There is no war here; we need to take a syncretistic approach and identify our common interests and goals first. For you to recklessly frame this debate in such radically opposing terms of reference, is to denigrate and dismiss the compelling commons interests that we all share. One of those is a desire to breathe clean air, and another is the dream of being able to cross a street and not have to worry about being killed by someone driving while talking on a cell phone. Let's not deliberately polarize the issue with the use of such dramatic terms to imply car owners are somehow the victims of some kind of anti-car jihad or attack. 

If anything, pedestrians and bicyclists are the real victims in this equation, year in and year out, partly because of the failure of the District Attorney to get tough with motorists who fail to maintain control of their vehicles as they agreed to do when they were issued their drivers licenses. Though the number of pedestrian deaths is down compared to three or four years ago, there are still too many people getting mowed down on our City streets. Logic would show that increasing the volume of parking downtown, or publicly subsidizing it, will only encourage more people to drive, instead of considering transit. The north-south arterials in SOMA leading to the freeway from the financial district are a death zone at peak commuter hours, and pedestrian safety as well as gound level air quality suffers greatly. All of these factors should be considered.

Defend the Commons,

Steve Willis

PS - You don't know jack about what's been going on in the Park. And your false assertions don't even merit a response. Boriiiing.

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At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, You are no match in a subject area that you simply do not understand, or which you want to dominate with deliberate misinformation. Either way, what you write on this subject reads like a little puppet at the end of someone's strings.

We've been here before, when I responded to your claims on

See the Letters to Editor section and scroll down to: "Better Neighborhoods Plus: Caveat Emptor" published on December 7th

Dear Editor,

I recently interviewed former planning commissioner Dennis Antenore, for the record, to learn more about the principal authors who crafted Prop J: The Golden Gate Park Revitalization Act of 1998 almost eight years ago.

Antenore represented the Coalition to Keep the deYoung in the Park, a corporate funded (Hellman and Goodyear) "grass-roots" organization which wanted the deYoung to stay in the park, obviously. What the Coalition didn't tell the public during the Prop J campaign is that a newly released draft Golden Gate Park Master Plan called for the deYoung to move out of the park, because the museum was a "non-conforming use" of the Park. There was no lack of consideration for the deYoung in this process. It was considered fully.

In their first meeting with neighborhood park activists in February, 1998, former Supervisor Michael Yaki, his aide Karen Carlson and Dennis Antenore sat on one side. The environmentalists and park advocates sat on the other side, listing their deep concerns for the Park, while being lobbied to drop their opposition to the garage in exchange for park improvements that would create a "pedestrian oasis."

Antenore took credit for authoring three specific park improvements contained in Prop J: the removal of approximately 200 parking spaces inside the Music Concourse Bowl, the creation of the free intra-park shuttle, and the requirement for a Transportation Improvement Plan. That was in February of 1998.

More than seven years have passed since then. I met Antenore for the first time in Ross Mirkarimi's office last August. He was involved in direct negotiations with the City Attorney and the authors of Proposition G, 2005, to formally validate a second garage entrance INSIDE the Music Concourse, without requiring the court-approved "dedicated access" lanes from outside of the Park. Antenore knew fully well that Prop J, which he helped author and sell, prohibited any garage entrances inside the park.

I asked who he represented in this process. He said, "There was a small group of us representing nobody but ourselves." He said they were working to craft a ballot initiative to stop the widening of traffic lanes on MLK Jr. Drive between 9th Avenue @ Lincoln Way, and the second garage entrance inside the Concourse itself.

When asked his opinion of the City's follow through on Prop J's promises, and whether he had any concerns about the promises of Better Neighborhoods Plus, given the abysmal track record of Prop J's "revitalization" of the Park, Antenore stated that he only helped create the legislation, and that he can't be held responsible for it's implementation.

Observations regarding the success of Antenore's park improvements:

1) The 200 parking spaces in the Music Concourse were removed as promised.
2) Funding for the "free" park shuttle ended last year. NO FUNDING IS IN PLACE FOR NEXT SUMMER.
3) The Transportation Improvement Plan was created, but funding has not been secured by the Concourse Authority for it's implementation. (Even though a revenue bond for garage construction for $32 million was approved by the Board of Supervisors in a 35-year ground lease that was, like the revenue bond, never approved by San Francisco voters!)

According to SF Green Party spokesperson Susan King, who was also involved in recent discussions of the Concourse Circulation Plan options, Antenore opposed the removal of cross-park commuter traffic from the Music Concourse when the discussion was before the Land Use Committee and the Board of Supervisors.

The single most important component needed to create the "auto-free, pedestrian oasis" that was promised by Prop J proponents in 1998, was removed from the table and from the discussion by an individual who represented nobody but himself.

Better Neighborhoods Plus? Former City Supervisor John Bardis said it all...and so did Marc Salomon.

Caveat emptor.

Stephen Willis

You can submit letters to the editor by clicking on this link:
or by writing to:
Beyond Chron
126 Hyde Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-771-9850 (phone)
415-771-1287 (fax)

At 3:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Furthermore, you can see more spin by your Democratic Party peer, Dennis Antenore:

"Willis and Better Neighborhoods Plus"

At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to my commentary on Antenore's spin, you wrote:

More on "Privatization and Antenore's Obfuscations of Fact"
To the Editor:

Stephen Willis continues to claim that Golden Gate Park is being
"privatized," though there's no evidence to back up his charge. Just
because both the de Young Museum---owned by the city---and the new garage underneath the Concourse---which will be the city's when the revenue bond is paid off---were built with private funding doesn't mean the park has been "privatized." In fact, both of these projects represent enormous gifts to the people of San Francisco. Accusing those who disagree with you of being "corrupt" should also be out of bounds in the city's political dialogue.

Rob Anderson


To the Editor,

If I were simply attacking Antenore's character, I wouldn't have provided information that he so skillfully obfuscates with his reply.There are a lot of self-serving political opportunists in the City, but that's nothing new.

I stand by the facts that he ignores. The facts illustrate that while Antenore poses as a populist defender of public processes, behind the scenes he serves the very forces behind the privatization of our city services.

The rationale for Better Neighborhoods Plus seems to be that the current Planning Department is so terminally corrupt and incapable that it must be bypassed to create a process that everyone will like. So, rather than face the challenge of correcting the problems at Planning, they suggest bypassing it with BNP.

The larger issue here is the bipartisan support for increasingly privatizing government services to make up for the loss of revenue from downtown corporations such as those represented by the Committee on Jobs and the Chamber of Commerce.

At City Hall, there is a new emphasis across the board for "creative financing" and the development of public-private partnerships to foster increased reliance on corporate funding for city services, while providing opportunities for "private investments in public equity."

While the original privatization ideologues were libertarian Republicans, local Democratic politicians including Mayor Newsom and Board President Peskin have embraced privatization schemes at City Hall without discussing it's impacts on public oversight and accountability. They were both critical players in the creation of a 35-year ground lease containing a $32 million revenue bond for a private corporation to build the deYoung garage, but they didn't hold a single public hearing to discuss the merits of the privatization.

When I interviewed Antenore, I asked him about a meeting he attended with Warren Hellman where he apparently first learned about the 35-year ground lease/revenue bond for Hellman's Music Concourse Community Partnership (MCCP). When queried, Hellman smiled and commented, "Pretty clever isn't it?"

Whether or not you support privatization, it appears to me that privatization's greatest promoters have nothing to gain from discussing it. That applies whether you are discussing the "noble cause" of Bechtel/Halliburton's privatization of Iraq's oil fields through production sharing agreements (PSA's), or the privatization schemes in the Presidio and Golden Gate Park funded and supported by Don Fisher and Warren Hellman with the cooperation of Democrats Pelosi, Feinstein, Newsom, Peskin and Antenore.

It is this blending of political and economic interests between Republicans and Democrats that epitomizes the corrupt bipartisanship at City Hall, and which to me Antenore so perfectly symbolizes. Othewise, he would be willing to discuss the facts instead of spinning a new story.

Stephen Willis

You can submit letters to the editor by clicking on this link:
or by writing to:
Beyond Chron
126 Hyde Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-771-9850 (phone)
415-771-1287 (fax)

At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And then finally, I responded to your claims published under:
"Ken Garcia/Garage Concourse Debate"


Rob Anderson is correct when he refers to "the new garage underneath the Concourse---which will be the city's when the revenue bond is paid off...." Even Anderson must acknowledge that the garage can not become a "gift" until the bond financing is paid off, if ever, and that the ground lease is for thirty-five years.

Presently the garage is privately owned and operated under the authority of this private ground lease to Warren Hellman, George Hume, T. Robert Burke, Richard Bingham and Dick Young, all principals of the Music Concourse Community Partnership (MCCP), a "private, non-profit, public benefit corporation."

In 2003, Chamber of Commerce President Lee Blitch first used the term "gift" to describe the private garage:

"Once the loan is paid off, the garage, a financing security deposit and a reserve fund will all be donated to the city. This donation is worth more than $70 million. The total value of the gift to the city is $122 million, plus several million dollars per year in garage revenue after the loan is repaid. San Francisco has no risk, but gets all the reward. " [ ]

In a few months, funding for the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority will run out and the Authority will expire. The public has an interest in learning now what oversight functions currently held by the Concourse Authority will be transferred to the Recreation & Parks Department (RPD), and what parts of their jurisdiction over the Park, if any, have been transferred to the private MCCP.

Contrary to Rob Anderson's claim, there is nothing being gifted to the City at this time, or at any time for free. Garage patrons are being counted on to provide the "private funding" to the garage operator, and which is used to pay off the bond holders. Until the bonds are paid off, the garage is private property belonging to a private corporation which is providing tax-free investment opportunities to other private parties.

Last week the private MCCP mailed out private invitations to selected community members for an upcoming private event honoring Mr. Hellman and Mr. Hume and acknowledging their great work on behalf of the private garage. The event will be held next Monday morning (December 19) in the New deYoung Parking garage.

Since this MCCP celebration is an RSVP event, it is unclear whether or not the public is welcome or may attend without an invitation. It is also unclear whether independent news reporters and photographers have legal access to this event since it's being called by a private corporation and being held in their private garage.

For Rob Anderson to describe the garage as a "gift" to the City, thirty-five years in advance of the planned gifting, is disingenuous at best.

Stephen Willis

You can submit letters to the editor by clicking on this link:
or by writing to:
Beyond Chron
126 Hyde Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-771-9850 (phone)
415-771-1287 (fax)


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