Friday, September 02, 2005

"In terms of ass-kicking..."

When writing about SF politics, it's best to remember that our political leaders often live in an alternate universe, one that, in Chris Daly's case, involves a psychodrama in which he regularly does some "ass-kicking" against the "Downtown" interests in defense of the city's oppressed masses. H. Brown, blogger and schmoozer, does an interview with Daly for the San Francisco Sentinel that is more schmooze session than interview. 

Brown starts off okay:

You've been taking a major ass-kicking in the local corporate media lately. Give your overall impression of how this affects you...They say you are a bully who is building a political machine by extorting money from major developers. What y'all think about that?

Daly's response:

You really don't read my blog? People don't read these things, do they? I answered all your questions there. In terms of ass-kicking, H., it's clear that the attack on me over Rincon Hill has been coordinated. Probably by Eric Jaye, but Nayman and Fisher may have their hand in it, too. We saw editorials in the Examiner and the Chronicle, Matier Ross. SFSOS hit me three times in their email screed. Now Matt Smith...I honestly haven't read the Matt Smith piece but I know that he doesn't like me, and he's piling on. But, as for ass-kicking, I like to think that I hold my own with these guys. 

So the real story is that for the first time in San Francisco development politics, neighborhoods are engaging to raise questions of community benefits. It's not about folks saying "Just don't build" and developers are saying "Just build it." The issue is how development affects neighborhoods and how neighborhoods engage to mitigate impacts. That's what really threatens Downtown. 

And this thing about me building a political machine? It's probably half right. Because even though I'm not building a political machine, if we are able to get resources into the hands of communities that have been marginalized economically, socially, and politically, then we might have real empowerment, and that seriously could turn the tables politically. Because Downtown has made its living by starving everyday people and thereby silencing populist politics in San Francisco.

Instead of doing some follow-up on this bullshit, Brown veers off with a reference to the New Orleans disaster. (I read Daly's blog, by the way; I just don't find it very convincing.) Daly must have been grateful for the change of subject, since the notion that he's invented mitigation in SF could have used some follow-up. 

The next questions should have been, What makes you think building highrise condos for the rich threatens downtown interests? How do you mitigate developments that take up 12 square blocks and will bring 8000 more people into that part of town? Will building affordable housing in another part of town mitigate what's going to happen at Rincon Hill? How does your shakedown of the Rincon Hill developers "turn the tables politically" in SF? Do you mean literally "starving," or is that a metaphor? Who in particular has been silenced by "Downtown"?

Matt Smith doesn't ask the right questions, either. Instead, he focuses on the financial underpinnings of the Rincon Hill deal, hammering Mayor Newsom while he's at it:

The Rincon deal, however, takes the cake. Chris Daly is an enemy to everything Newsom says he wants to do in San Francisco, yet the mayor sat idly by until late in the game as a deal that will fund Daly's political future took shape...Were he anything close to on the ball, Newsom might have seized on the fact that the deal was extremely tenuous, in a legal sense, and could put the city on the hook to repay millions of dollars of high-risk debt. Instead, Newsom's aides arrived late with a study of their own saying developers could only pay $20 per square foot...

The financing of the deal and the city's potential liability raise good questions, but apparently Smith doesn't think encouraging thousands of highrise condos for the rich in the downtown area is a bad idea (How could he? He proposes residential highrises for Fulton St. and Lincoln Ave., next to Golden Gate Park). 

Nor does Mayor Newsom. In fact, like Daly, Newsom supports the Rincon Hill developments, and, presumably, the idea of auctioning off a large part of the city in exchange for development fees. 

By Smith's account, the mayor thought $20 a square foot in development fees was reasonable, while Daly thought the number should be $25, which is how it ended up, with Daly claiming a great victory for the oppressed in the city. Take that, wicked ruling class!

The vacuousness of the public dialogue in the run-up to the Rincon Hill disaster is inadvertently conveyed in Smith's account:

As with San Francisco plans for anything new, the condo proposal created an extended battle over the necessary permits. On one side were activists who felt new apartment towers might partially block views of portions of the Bay Bridge for a handful of houses perched on a hill across town. On the othe side were people who thought San Francisco didn't have enough apartments, and that vacant, downtown land next to subway lines was a good place to build new ones.

It was all about views---of the Bay Bridge, yet---along with permits and building the city much-needed new apartments, as if million-dollar condos are the kind of housing the city needs.

But Smith makes a good point on the dangerous consensus/torpor that seems to have the city's bureaucracy in its grip:

To give credit where it's due, the painted surface of Gavin Newsom's mayoralty really is pretty. Newsom currently enjoys approval ratings of around 85 percent, enough to earn him mention as a potential governor. Other politicians---on the Board of Supervisors, in the City Attorney's Office, in San Francisco's armies of apparatchiks---seem to agree on everything. And in turn, they seem to embrace our popular mayor.

Newsom showed boldness and vision on both the homeless issue---which got him elected mayor---and the gay marriage issue, which solidified his support in the city's gay community. But he is running with the progressive lemmings on the housing issue. The mayor needs to rein in a Sorcerer's Apprentice-like Planning Dept., which is merrily and methodically planning to "better" other parts of the city by making them free-fire zones for developers with its Orwellian Better Neighborhoods program.

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