Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Newsom to the Planning Commission: "low-hanging fruit in the public process"

Below in italics is a speech---if you can call this incoherent exercise in free-association that---delivered by Mayor Newsom before the Planning Commission last Thursday, April 5, 2007, transcribed from the SFGTV video of the meeting. It has to be one of the emptiest speeches delivered here in Progressive Land in a long time, though admittedly there's a lot of competition for that prize. 

Mayor Newsom pretends to have a long and intimate acquaintance with the issues around the Market and Octavia Plan, but this speech shows no evidence of any such knowledge. The mayor still seems to be in the self-congratulatory mode still common to some people in the area for getting rid of the Central Freeway. He seems unaware that the traffic that used to travel over the Hayes Valley neighborhood on the freeway is now on Octavia Blvd. creating gridlock in the area.

The Market/Octavia Plan will encourage the construction of 6,000 more housing units and 10,000 new residents in the area---and 40-story highrises in the Market and Van Ness area---but it has no serious traffic studies of the impact that will have on that part of town. Nor is there any study of the effects all that development will have on Muni. He refers to affordable housing, but the M/O Plan does not include affordable housing. Except for the old freeway parcels the city gave to the Redevelopment Agency, all the housing to be encouraged in the area will be market-rate housing. 

He refers to a "historic survey" of the area, but the EIR for Plan in fact does not contain that survey, even though it's required by CEQA. He talks glowingly about the Plan as a source of future revenue for the city, as if that had anything to do with good planning. He talks about the seven years of work that's been done on this Plan by the Planning Department, but the question is, After all these years, why is the bloated, mangled, incoherent EIR for this Plan the best the Planning Dept. could do? Why weren't the historic landmarks study and the traffic studies done a long time ago? The only possible answer: sheer incompetence in the Planning Department. The mayor closes with an ominous reference to doing the same to "neighborhoods" in the Eastern part of town!

San Francisco's Planning Department---with the crucial collaboration of both the mayor and the board of supervisors---seems determined to destroy the city. Why? Because "we need more housing," along with the completely false "transit corridors" theory, as if we can simply build as much housing as possible anywhere near the city's main traffic arteries.

Intellectual content aside---basically non-existent here---and allowing for the fact that most of us aren't particularly eloquent speaking extemporaneously, this address is shockingly incoherent from someone who has to do this sort of thing every day. I've long supported the mayor on the homeless issue, because I thought---and still think---that he has put in place pragmatic and humane programs that will help the city deal with that problem for years to come. But it's disheartening to learn that he's essentially clueless about a Plan that will go a long way toward destroying the heart of this once-great city.

The Planning Commission adopted the disastrous Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan by a 5-2 vote. Assuming anyone cares, it will have to be appealed to the Board of Supervisors if there's going to be any chance of stopping this gross planning stupidity.

Mayor Newsom: ...Thank you very much for the welcome and thank you commissioners and Ms. Director for the opportunity.

Just to say a few words on what some would argue was a never-ending saga of Octavia and Market Street. The old adage I hope applies here, that God's delays are not God's denials. We began this process when I was a young man of 31-years-old and a member of the Board of Supervisors. I remember just a few years prior to that I was serving as the President of the Parking and Traffic Commission. And one of the first acts I was responsible for when then-Mayor Willie Brown tapped me was addressing the need to raze the deck of the Central Freeway.

It was a baptism of fire, and of course I've been quite associated as not only a member of that commission but as a member of the Board of Supervisors in all the permutations and all the nuances and all the issues associated with reclaiming this part of San Francisco, as well as now being mayor of three years, making the subsequent investments that were necessary to complete this Better Neighborhood planning process.

And I want to underscore how appreciative I am that this commission and your executive director are committed to planning and committed to the public process. And I think the public process here has been served quite amply over the course of the seven years. I think the number of meetings you've had on this topic, my understanding are up to nine of so, and the multitudes of community meetings of twenty plus, at least that we counted. I believe there may be even more formal meetings out there in the community on this Better Neighborhoods plan. I do think this suggests that we need to come to some conclusion. Whether this is a good idea to move forward or a bad idea is in your hands.

My subjective opinion, based on a reasoned, objective analysis over the course of a number of years and certainly a number of months, is that I think it's time to move forward. I think we've deliberated enough. I think there are a lot of people---not just those in the audience, but people that are watching at home and people that are elsewhere---that are familiar with these proceedings that are a bit frustrated.

Recognizing the importance of process, recognizing the important deliberative process, and particularly one that engages diverse communities and as well engages the minds of diverse points of view. That being said, I think that we're at the paralysis of analysis. And that is a bigger concern for this department than perhaps even the issue that's in front of you today. And that's why I'm here, because I want to reinforce the importance of coming to some conclusion.

And I know that the conclusion that is being considered here tonight offers an ongoing process at the same time, particlularly as it relates to the notion that we will be looking to have a strategy of implementation of this $10 fee that will generate we hope up to $85 million of improvements in and around the area that's being considered but that will be done in a way that is inclusive, that is collaborative, that is coordinated. And I think that is a wise strategy and an appropriate one. And I think it recognizes that in the past we've had fits and starts and that this process is a much more advantageous one and perhaps a model for subsequent plans that are adopted by this commission.

In addition, though, I just want to underscore [that] the city needs more housing. It needs housing around transit corridors. It needs to focus density. It needs to focus on preserving and protecting the historic character of the city at the same time. It needs more affordable housing. And it needs these public benefits.

And I can think of few---only a few---places in San Francisco...and as I so walk often on these streets, and I turn as I walk down Van Ness, west on Market Street, I can think of few areas that need more help than those areas. The alleyways there, the storefronts. We need to resolve this, and we need to make the kind of investment that distinguishes this process, and we need to do it hopefully this evening.

I appreciate the differences of opinions. I appreciate how committed all of you have been behind the scenes and here in public to this process. I certainly am intimately familiar with those that will be coming up that have a very strong point of view, that is in contrast to my point of view here tonight, that think we need to more on the historic survey side, and I think we've made a lot of progress, and I know a lot of work was done on that even today. And I think we need to be sensitive to that. But I think you've got a good process that will address the concerns in the historic preservation community, and those concerns need to be met, and I think can be.

I think the opportunity to look at the density, the opportunities for the developers there to look at more remuneration for the city, [to] look at the prospects of going beyond the 15-20% inclusionary to super-inclusionary, I think is wise. And I think that process can continue as well, and I hope it does continue. But at a certain point, we need to move forward.

And so---again, long-windedly---I'll conclude by thanking you and encouraging you to move forward so that we can move on to addressing those Eastern neighborhoods, and that EIR that will be presented to you in a few months. That's certainly low-hanging fruit in the public process. And of course all these other plans that are in place and are being processed, and we can give some dignity to the seven years of the work that so many behind me and in front of me have done on this.

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