Friday, February 09, 2007

Film on UC's attempted land-grab

Note: The starting time for the free February 24 screening of "Uncommon Knowledge" is 4:00 p.m. at the San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin St. (at Grove), Koret Auditorium, located on the library's lower level.

UC Regents attempt to convert historic San Francisco campus into a profitable private development.

CONTACTS: Eliza Hemenway, Filmmaker, Trinity Productions (415) 205-8280, email:, or

Cynthia Servetnick
AICP, Co-Chair: Save the UC Berkeley Extension Laguna Street Campus (415) 934-5705 Office or (415) 794-0566 Cell.

FILM SCREENING of UNCOMMON KNOWLEDGE: Closing the Books at UC Berkeley Extension followed by a PUBLIC FORUM to address the history and re-use of UCBE campus. A documentary film and public forum will be held February 24th on the history and reuse of the historic UC Berkeley Extension campus. The campus is nearly 6 acres large and located in the heart of San Francisco. UC Regents have engaged a private developer, A.F. Evans, to convert the site into a high density housing and retail shopping. Their proposal is currently under review by the SF Planning department. UC Regents are seeking rezoning on the campus, which if approved, will permanently end its 150 year history of public use. A public hearing is scheduled by the San Francisco Planning Department for Thursday, March 8, 2007 in Room 400, City Hall; it is the only public process planned regarding the re-zoning of the campus. The group, Save the UC Berkeley Extension Laguna Street Campus, is urging the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to reject UC's commercial development proposal for the site and form a Citizens Advisory Committee to determine the highest and best use of the historic campus.

DETAILS: screening of UNCOMMON KNOWELDGE and panel discussion
When: Saturday, February 24, 4:00-5:30 PM
Where: The San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin St. (at Grove), Koret Auditorium, located on the library's lower level. Enter at 30 Grove St. and proceed downstairs. Special needs parking is available on Larkin and Fulton Streets.

Notes: Admission is free. Refreshments are not permitted in the Koret Auditorium. This program is not a SF Public Library-sponsored event. For additional information, please call the above-listed contacts.

Eliza Hemenway’s new documentary UNCOMMON KNOWLEDGE: Closing the Books at UC Berkeley Extension is a poetic journey inside UC Berkeley Extension as plans unfold to close its historic San Francisco campus and convert it into a lucrative private development. Filmmaker Eliza Hemenway worked at the campus for over six years. Wondering why UC Regents were closing a campus with a 150 year history of public use, she picked up her camera and began to film. The result is a revealing look into higher education and culture, as well as a hauntingly beautiful portrait of a campus and the community it served. Accompanied by an edgy urban soundtrack written and performed by locally acclaimed musician Tim Barsky and Everyday Theater, with additional music by The Toids. Running Time: Aprox. 30 minutes

Endorsements for the film include: "A beautifully crafted and poetic political commentary," by Ellen Bruno, award winning Documentary Filmmaker, and "Stunning visuals and leaps of insight, this film is as entertaining as it is illuminating. Eliza Hemenway is a promising new talent in documentary film," from Jon Garfield, Media Studies Faculty at New College of California.

PUBLIC FORUM: After the film and a brief Q&A with the filmmaker, a panel including Charles Chase, AIA, Executive Director, San Francisco Architectural Heritage; Mark Paez, Urban Planner and Co-Chair, Friends of 1800; Warren Dewar, Attorney and Board Member, Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association (HVNA); and Tamara Colby, Urban Planner and Co-Chair, Save the UCBE Laguna Street Campus, will present information on the historic, preservation and planning issues related to the reuse of the Campus.

BACKGROUND: The nearly six-acre UC Berkeley Extension Laguna Street Campus is located near Market and Laguna Street in the Hayes Valley Neighborhood. Laguna, Buchanan, Haight and Herman streets bound the site. The campus's historic Spanish Colonial buildings line these streets. The campus was the original home of San Francisco State University, and its construction predates Golden Gate Park. The campus not only has a long history of public use, but it has always been used for educational purposes. In 1854 an orphanage was constructed on the site and remained in operation until the 1920's when the San Francisco State Normal School was established. The school eventually changed its name to San Francisco State University. By 1957, SFSU moved to a new campus in the Lake Merced area. Soon after, the Governor of California approved an act of emergency legislation that transferred the Campus to the UC Regents. There was one caveat in this transfer: the campus property was to be put to "university uses." UC Berkeley has used the campus for its continuing education program for over fifty years. Unfortunately, during that time, the school neglected the infrastructure and failed to bring the historical buildings up to code.

Despite years of economic boom, renovations were limited to cosmetic upgrades while additional facilities were renovated throughout the Bay Area. UC representatives claim that the campus was too expensive to maintain and bring up to current seismic and disabled access codes led to its closure. UC Regents shut down the campus in 2003 and granted a long-term ground lease to developers, AF Evans, to convert the campus into a private development featuring 450 rental housing units, 5000 square feet of retail space, and a community center. Approximately 20 percent of the housing units have been reserved for openhouse, a non-profit LGBT senior housing developer. Fewer than 15 percent of the total units would be reserved for low or moderate income households. Opponents of the project object to the privatization and partial demolition of this historic campus which has been in public use for over 150 years. They plan to rally prior to the Planning Commission's public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the UC/AF Evans/openhouse project on March 8th at City Hall.

PRESERVATION EFFORTS AND ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW: The San Francisco Planning Department is accepting public comments on the proposed UC/AF Evans/openhouse project through March 12, 2007. Send written comments to: Paul Maltzer, Environmental Review Officer, SF Planning Department, 1660 Mission Street, Suite 500, San Francisco, CA 94103. A copy of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) titled, "55 Laguna Mixed Use Project" can be found here.

A Public Hearing on the Draft EIR will be held Thursday, March 8, 2007 in Room 400, City Hall. Call 558-6422 the week of the hearing for a recorded message for the exact time of hearing. A request has been made to hold the hearing at 6:00 PM.

The Friends of 1800 have submitted an application to the State Historic Preservation Office nominating the campus to the National Register of Historic Places. The Friends of 1800 is a grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving significant historical buildings, landmarks and the architectural heritage of San Francisco with a special interest in the identification and recognition of issues and sites important to LGBT history and culture. For more information on the Friends of 1800 advocacy efforts to nominate the UCBE Laguna Street Campus to the National Register of Historic Places. See this.

Save the UCBE Laguna Street Campus was founded to establish a Citizens Advisory Committee to determine the highest and best use of the campus and to promote the preservation of its historic and public resources. The group has drafted a petition calling for the Board of Supervisors to establish a Citizens Advisory Committee here and here.

For more information about the film, UNCOMMON KNOWLEDGE: Closing the Books at the UC Berkeley Extension, or the filmmaker, Eliza Hemenway, visit Film stills available upon request:


Aaron Peskin and the Jaws of Life

It must have taken the jaws of life to pry Chris Smith's lips off Aaron Peskin's hairy ass before he could write his fawning article in the current issue of San Francisco magazine ("Captain of the Skyline," Feb., 2007).

Peskin is a triple-threat guy: a "combination of neighborhood activist and master planner, an environmentalist willing to break bread with the city's biggest developers."

"In the post-Brown years, the Board of Supervisors has become a de facto planning commission, with Peskin its most knowledgeable and forceful member."

Peskin is an intellectual, who once actually read a book:

In fact, Peskin's roots are in New Urbanism: in college, he read a lot of Jane Jacobs, author of the movement's ur-text, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and he preaches the New Urbanist gospel of density and transit-first community-nurturing solutions to city life...You get the sense that in Peskin's ideal world, there would be no need for skyscrapers or big new developments. But given our perpetual housing crunch and the Bay Area's ever-increasing population, it's a moot point. So Peskin tries to mold each new project into a shape he can live with.

A developer of course likes Peskin: "Aaron has a keen interest in seeing that the process is honest and fair."

Peskin is Super Planner: "...Peskin has demonstrated a grasp of detail unrivaled among city politicians. Talk to him for any length of time and he's likely to cite, chapter and verse, from the 1200-page city planning code."

Dean Macris likes Peskin: "In all my years, I've never seen a supervisor more informed about the code or how the department functions."

The architect of Rincon Towers, not surprisingly, likes Peskin: "Aaron gets it---he gets how big projects fit into the landscape, physically and politically. He's got the feel for the whole picture."

During public comment at the BOS, Peskin loves the Little People: "Peskin, as far as I can tell, is all rapt attention, absorbed in the concerns of his esteemed, if highly eccentric, constituents."

Peskin is both Godfather and regular guy:

Peskin, in shorts, flip-flops, and a madras shirt, sits outside Caffe Trieste. One after another, people stop by to pay their respects. Peskin receives each graciously, teasing and gossiping, sprinkling his comments with snippets of Cantonese, Hebrew, and Bahasa Indonesia. He's their guy, a local hero.

Peskin is a pretty tough hombre: "Also, it has to be said, Peskin isn't afraid to mix it up, stopping just short of actual fisticuffs. The city's famously fratricidal politics has always bred tough guys."

Peskin---and Chris Daly---are likened to Harry Bridges!

It was along the Embarcadero's concrete piers that union leader 'Red' Harry Bridges organized the longshoremen in the 1930s, standing up to the shipping companies, the police, and the invective of William Randolph Hearst's newspapers. Peskin and Chris Daly, the city's modern-day liberals, carry on that tradition.

HANC's Calvin Welch likes Peskin: "You get the most flak when you are over the target."

Peskin is fighting for the soul of San Francisco:

It's easy to see why Peskin's supporters love him: he speaks of the city as sacred ground, of the skyline as a sacrament, along with the neighborhood park, the corner market...At bottom it's a fight for the soul of the city, a struggle over who gets to chart our future.

Peskin doesn't really like highrises, in spite of his support for Rincon Towers: "No matter how many dramatic projects come across his desk, Peskin is at heart a low-rise guy."

Peskin lives on Telegraph Hill in North Beach, very much a low-rise neighborhood, but "he knows better than anyone that what works for North Beach doesn't necessarily play south of Market." What apparently does play south of Market are 4,000 condos for the rich in residential highrises on Rincon Hill. 

I've blamed Supervisor Daly for this atrocity, but of course it couldn't have happened without the support of the rest of the Board of Supervisors, especially Peskin. True, there wasn't much of architectural significance in that area before, but why not let a neighborhood evolve over time within the city's lowrise zoning regulations?

Instead, we have the 4,000 highrise condos on Rincon Hill, and 4,000 more in the nearby Transbay area, along with another 6,000 new housing units at Mission Bay, though the latter has a height limit of a mere 17 stories, unlike Rincon Hill and Transbay, which will have highrises up to 100 stories high. 

And there are 15-20 more highrises planned for the Transbay area. Add up the population gain for all these developments and you get a total of more than 30,000 new city residents by 2020. How anyone can call these reckless changes good planning is a mystery to me, not to mention the city's skyline, which Peskin allegedly sees as a "sacrament."

Peskin on all these highrises south of Market:

I have mixed feelings. Part of me is proud that we've made some ground-breaking decisions. Part of me worries about what San Francisco will become...Cities evolve, and we have to grow. We're not scared of building highrises. Density is a good thing...But let's be smart about it. We have to ask why.

But "why" is just the question that is never answered by Peskin, Daly, or any of the other short-sighted boosters for this kind of development. Why is all this density good and "smart"? How much density can the city's infrastructure really handle? I guess we're going to find out.

Sounds to me like Peskin's political vanity is flattered that he is now such a big political player in SF, but to him the actual future of the city he's creating seems to be a secondary issue. When all this reckless development is done, Peskin and the other "progressive" supervisors will be long gone, and he will be retired to his beloved lowrise North Beach:

To me this is urban paradise...Three stories of housing above ground-floor retail, building-to-building, historic fabric, sense of community, weird people---this is it. When I think about dying and going to heaven, if I could be reincarnated in North Beach I'd be quite happy.

He's helping to create a very different kind of city on Rincon Hill, in the Transbay area, and at Mission Bay. 

It's ironic that the present Board of Supervisors, allegedly so progressive, is proudly facilitating the gentrification of San Francisco, which will make it much more difficult for anyone but the well-off to live in the livable, low-rise city neighborhoods that manage to survive the tsunami of development Peskin is encouraging.

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Professor John Finley Scott

John Finley Scott

A note from our Eastbay cycling correspondent:

Here's some informative details about the investigation of Professor John Finley Scott's sad and disturbing disappearance [link below]. John is credited as the inventor of the mountain bike (the woodsy) back in the 60's and was one of the original pioneering state and national advocates for cyclists. With his transportation studies background, he developed and taught an interesting UC Davis sociology course on the History of American Transportation, and he did extensive (widely quoted) research on bicycle transportation issues. He absolutely disagreed with the anti-motoring bicycle extremists known as the bicycle coalitions, who have turned bicycle planning into a controlled Stalinist-like process that promotes air polluting traffic-calming schemes designed to punish motorists. John's good natured skeptical wisdom, vocal opposition, and factual research will be missed by all of us in the cycling community opposed to the anti-car nonsense promoted by the extremist bicycle coalitions and their greenie friends.

The Danger to Cycling of Anti-Car Advocacy
by John Finley Scott
Yolo County, CA and Gardnerville, NV
(John Finley Scott is Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, at the University of California, Davis. He served as president of the California Association of Bicycling Organizations in 1976-77 and served also as its legislative liaison and as CA State Legislative representative for the League of American Wheelmen.)

Mixing bicycle transportation advocacy and anti-car ideology is more likely than not to damage the cycling cause. I see this as potentially a serious problem for the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), even apart from whether it returns to its historic mission of supporting the best practices of cycling, often called Vehicular Cycling.

Vehicular Cycling means operating a bicycle according to the standard rules for drivers of vehicles, on the same roads and with the same rights. This is the safest and most efficient way to operate a bicycle.

The risk of damage does not result from conflicting goals: Vehicular Cycling is compatible with both conventional middle-class and countercultural lifestyles and, with certain qualifications, both anti-car ideology and indifference to widespread auto use. The problem arises because Vehicular Cycling---or any cycling doctrine---is not a "fighting faith" for more than a very few people. But opposition to cars is very much a "fighting faith," and for large numbers of people.

Anti-car ideology has been growing in the USA since WW II, and it was voiced before then by many European intellectuals. As the automobile sweeps all other transport modes from the field (except air transport for long-distance travel), beleaguered opponents of cars sense a crisis. In their view the auto is reshaping cities and destroying the urban heritage. They also see it as an agent of the class system, as supporting an offensive form of conspicuous consumption, as rendering non-drivers dependent and immobile, and as damaging to the environment.

Mass auto use also produces what its critics see as a hyper-democratic "Hobbes War," a war of all against all---where reckless bullies dominate the flow of traffic, where meek and courteous citizens risk injury, delay, and status insult. Hence the call arises to restrict auto use, especially in urban areas, and to advance the use of collective transit, bicycling, or walking.

The reason I see for not mixing Vehicular Cycling advocacy with anti-car ideology in the same organization is that because the anti-car fervor eventually captures the organization. This has happened already in several bicycle-advocacy organizations, where what began as bicycling advocacy ended up as anti-car advocacy. And because auto use is massively popular, anti-car advocates find it prudent to disguise their opposition to cars by calling for measures for which some other goal can be claimed---saving old cities, preserving the environment, encouraging cycling.

One sees this often in proposals for new wide bike lanes on existing streets, where the real underlying motive is not to aid cyclists but to impede motor traffic (such as by reducing 4 traffic lanes to 2, as proposed for Telegraph Ave. in Oakland, CA) or by installing speed bumps or other traffic calming measures, some of which are a greater safety hazard and inconvenience for cyclists than they are for motorists.

If anti-car doctrine were to carry the day and auto use were somehow to recede, a close link between Vehicular Cycling and anti-car doctrine would not be a problem. But that is not how things are working now: auto use is not expanding much in the USA only because so little use remains by other modes. Attempts to "get people out of their cars" are almost complete failures both in this country and throughout the world. Cars simply do transport work better for most people and most journeys than the alternatives that are offered as replacements for them. And auto use is rising throughout the world---most rapidly in India and especially in China, where annual auto sales are up about 80%, as these two economies modernize.

Additionally, I see the beginning of a backlash in this country against anti-car agitation, and this backlash may well grow. If bicycle transportation advocates, including LAB, tie themselves to anti-car advocacy, they risk having bicycles banned from the roads in a backlash against car-hatred and as a reaction to depicting road cycling as dangerous.

Editor's note: For other ideas on the relationship between cycling and reducing car use, see
Who Really Benefits From Bikeways? by John Forester and Cycling for Conservation by Fred Oswald.

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Homeless deaths in 2006: 73 through October

Last month I posted an item on the city's Homeless Death Form. The form was created by an ordinance of the board of supervisors back in June, 2005. The Newsom administration has apparently decided to discontinue issuing an annual report on the deaths of homeless people in SF. With the new Homeless Death Form operational for more than a year, I figured maybe we could cobble together our own annual report. 

The Department of Public Health has been helpful in their response to my original inquiry. The city's Office of Vital Records and Statistics tells me that, based on the number of Homeless Death Forms that have arrived at their office so far, through October, 2006, 73 homeless people died last year in San Francisco, an average of seven a month, which means probably around 80-90 homelesss people died in SF last year. This is more or less in line with the numbers reported in previous years that showed that more than 100 homeless died on our streets every year. In previous years, drug and alcohol were the leading causes of death among the homeless, and it's safe to assume that's still true. I'm hoping to be able to examine the forms themselves soon to flesh out our report with that kind of detail.

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