Sunday, July 15, 2007

Matt Smith's latest tantrum

The last time Matt Smith had a tantrum like the one in this week's SF Weekly (Profits for Developers Initiative) was when he went off on me for being a party in the litigation that forced the City of San Francisco to do an environmental impact report on its ambitious Bicycle Plan. Smith was in such a snit he refused to use my name, instead calling me and the lawyer for Citizens For Adequate Review (CFAR) "mean people."

Why did forcing the city to comply with state law upset Smith so much? Because he's a bike nut, who rides his bike to work from the west side of town to the SF Weekly's offices near the CalTrain depot south of Market, a hair-raising trip Smith described for his readers a few years ago.

As a certified bike nut, Smith opposes anything that will make it easier to drive in the city. The Parking for Neighborhoods Initiative, which will be on the city's ballot in November, qualifies as a target for Smith's rage.

His arguments against the sensible initiative reveal the intellectual bankruptcy and dishonesty of the city's bike intellectuals:

A truly awful ballot measure begins with repulsive financial backers. This one was launched with $30,000 from Gap founder Don Fisher, a Republican billionaire known for orchestrating his family's decision to buy and log 235,000 acres of endangered redwood forests; and another $30,000 from Webcor, a giant condo builder standing to benefit from the ballot proposition.

The logging reference is to the Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC), purchased with Fisher money way back in 1997. Since I used to live in Mendocino County, I know something about this issue. I even interviewed the president of MRC for my shortlived newsletter, Mendoland. The truth is that MRC is making a good faith effort to practice sustainable logging on its land, which the Forest Stewardship Council has certified. Smartwood has also certifed MRC's forestry practices:

The example in question forces neighbors along Octavia Boulevard and around Glen Park to scrap plans they crafted during years of community meetings to turn their streets into walkable, park-filled transit villages, complete with subsidized child-care centers, lower-income housing, libraries, and recreational facilities — amenities that were to be paid for by extracting subsidies from developers.

"Octavia Boulevard" is a reference to the appalling Market/Octavia Plan, about which I've posted many items over the past two years (click on "Market/Octavia" at the bottom of this item). Oddly, Matt Smith has never written anything about this important, completely misguided city plan, though he supposedly approves of it. 

Anyone who's been anywhere near Octavia Blvd. lately knows that it's anything but a "walkable, park-filled transit village." (nor are there any "recreational facilities" around Octavia Blvd., unless you count the tiny Patricia Park where Octavia meets Hayes St. And there's no library anywhere near Hayes Valley.) 

In fact, much of the traffic that used to travel over Hayes Valley on the Central Freeway is now coming through the heart of the neighborhood on Octavia Blvd, jamming up the streets of that neighborhood for much of the day.

As the awful Market/Octavia Plan is implemented in the coming years, the traffic in that area is going to get a lot worse, with thousands of parcels in the area rezoned to encourage population density and make it even more profitable for developers, including an undisclosed number of 40-story highrises in the Market/Van Ness area. Just as important, the Market/Octavia Plan discourages developers from including parking spaces for the 6,000 new housing units in the area. 

The bike nut fantasy is that the city can encourage as much population density as possible as long as there's a Muni line nearby, even though Muni clearly can't handle its present passenger load. But that leaves us with...bikes! Oh, how cozy we're all going to be in our "transit villages," with standing room only on Muni, strolling along Octavia Blvd. with its 45,000 cars a day, riding our bikes among the highrises in our "vibrant" neighborhoods!:

It's[Parking for Neighborhoods initiative] being promoted as a way to make driving around the city a more attractive transport option. But its most notable effect will be to make housing more expensive so parking can be cheaper — that's backwards. And just as it will help drive more low- and middle-income people from San Francisco, the Fisher Initiative will make life less pleasant for people of all incomes who already live here.

According to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, driving in the city is already the transportation option chosen by most of the city's residents (Countywide Transportation Plan, July 2004). There's nothing about the pricing of parking in the initiative, and the link between housing costs and parking is murky at best. 

Why does Smith think Webcor is backing the parking initiative? Because housing units are easier to sell if they come with parking. Does Smith really think that the "middle-income" residents of SF don't own cars? And, since tourism is our largest industry, making parking scarce for the more than one million hotel visitors who rent cars every year in SF is just dumb:

Further accommodating the comfortable at the expense of the afflicted, Fisher's proposed law would give homeowners the automatic right to add new parking garages, even if the garage entrance displaces a bus stop. Now such a move requires special permit approval. This change seems subtle until one considers that the San Francisco bus system employs analysts and other staffers whose job involves carefully situating bus stops so that routes move as swiftly as possible while still letting people off a short distance from their destination. Eliminating a single stop along a line---as a garage entrance can do---might mean completely relocating bus stops along a route at great expense to the city and possible inconvenience to bus riders.

There's nothing in the initiative that says that curb-cuts for garages must necessarily "displace" bus stops, since a curb-cut and a bus stop can coexist. Like a lot of bike nuts, Smith sheds crocodile tears for Muni passengers. Like his bike comrades, Smith doesn't seem to understand or care that making it tougher to drive and park in the city for car drivers also makes it tougher for Muni drivers and passengers---and for taxis and emergency vehicles:

The more parking spaces there are, the less room there is for anything else. So additional condominium parking spaces mean it very quickly becomes more and more difficult to park, or drive, or walk, or ride the bus anywhere else.

In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. For the most part, SF is a city that's still relatively easy to drive in, but Smith, the SF Bicycle Coalition, and our "progressive" city government are all striving to change that by making it as hard and expensive as possible to drive in the city. Their latest victory in this campaign was eliminating most of the street parking on Market St. between Van Ness and Octavia Blvd.

Not only are there 460,150 motor vehicles registered in SF according to the DMV, but there are 35,000 people who drive into the city every day to work. Then there are the previously mentioned one million tourists staying in city hotels every year who rent cars, not to mention the more than 1000 Muni vehicles on city streets.

Smith is so desperate to discredit Don Fisher he combs through his autobiography for ammo, but all he comes up with are a few anecdotes from Fisher's youth, including how as a kid he was arrested in his parked car drinking with an underage girl. The moral Smith tries unconvincingly to squeeze from the story: "One idea implicit in these tales is that San Francisco might again be more pleasant if it were possible to effortlessly park one's car."

People commuting in and out of the city need parking. Visitors/tourists in SF need parking. Shoppers who live in the city need parking if our neighborhood shopping districts and small businesses are going to thrive. Only the fanatical cycling community and their "progressive" fellow travelers in SF will oppose this sensible measure.

It's going to be interesting to see how the parking initiative does in November. If Smith's desperate attempt to discredit Don Fisher is any indication, the city's anti-car bike zealots will be waging a dirty, fact-free campaign. 

The bike nut community hasn't always done well at the ballot box in SF. They lost on raising the parking tax last year; they lost in 1998 on building the garage in Golden Gate Park; they lost---twice---in 2000 on closing Golden Gate Park to cars on Saturdays. District 5 Diary will do its part to see that they lose again.

The Parking Initiative's site:

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