Saturday, September 22, 2007

Ross Mirkarimi: Leader or lemming?

The thing about Ross Mirkarimi is that he looks like a leader. He's a big, handsome, gregarious man with an impressive head of hair. And he talks like a leader, though, on close examination, much of what he says consists of chunks of left-wing rhetoric---often garbled rhetoric, at that. 

He likes to invoke the idea of revolution when addressing leftist audiences, but when it comes to dealing with the specifics of city issues, his cosmetic and rhetorical presentation is useless. He often rolls over for his more experienced colleagues and defers to city departments, especially the city's Planning Dept.

During the hearing on the Bicycle Plan a few years ago, Mirkarimi was pathetic as he asked the representatives from Planning and the City Attorney's office for reassurance that they would be complying with CEQA even though they were voting to make it part of the General Plan with no environmental review at all

Of course the city bureaucrats told him what he wanted to hear, and Ross, along with all of his colleagues, then voted for a city strategy that was clearly illegal, as Judge Busch pointed out in his blistering ruling last November.

This was just a dramatic confirmation of the fact that Ross is not a leader at all; he's just another follower in the Green cult, the perfect knee-jerk "progressive" supervisor for one of the city's most left-wing districts.

A more recent example of Mirkarimi's lemming-like political behavior is on UC's land-grab of the six-acre site on lower Haight Street that used to be the UC extension, where working people once took night classes at a public university. 

After his early opposition to UC's attempt to turn the property into a massive housing development to fatten its bottom line, Mirkarimi has been doing what political lemmings always do---trying to make a deal that he hopes won't make anyone---or anyone important, that is---mad. In practice, that meant meeting with folks who want to landmark the site and keep it zoned, as it is now, for "public use," while, at the same time, meeting and placating the powerful, i.e., UC/Evans and the Planning Dept. (The Planning Dept., naturally, has supported UC's land-grab from the start).

If he was a real leader, Mirkarimi would have maintained his opposition to the proposal both on principle and on behalf of that neighborhood, since UC has had the property tax-free from the city for 50 years because of its public education "mission," a mission it now wants to change to that of neighborhood-destroying housing developer. Based also on the fact that, when the people in the neighborhood have had a chance to voice their opinion, they have rejected UC's proposal.

UC lied out front---and continues to lie---about why it discontinued its education "mission" at that site. They were too poor, you understand, to maintain the property for public education. Pressed for the information at community meetings, UC then admitted they are now spending more than $2 million a year to lease office space downtown to perform that same mission. Why not spend all that money to rehab and maintain the Haight St. site? To ask the question is to answer it.

But UC's operatives know how to deal with windbag progressives in San Francisco---play a Politically Correct card that makes it hard for the windbags to vote against it. In this instance, UC/Evans played the LGBT card, as they made a deal with PC housing developer openhouse to set aside 80 of the 450 housing units on the site for elderly gays. 

This of course got the approval of Mirkarimi's gay chauvinist colleagues on the board, Tom Ammiano and Bevan Dufty. And, since the folks from the neighborhood he conferred with seemed to be mostly concerned about preserving the historic buildings on the site, the Murk felt free to assume it was okay to endorse the zoning change to allow the massive housing development. End of tricky political problem for him, end of six acres of property zoned for public use in the heart of SF.

The deal is evidently done. All that's happening now is some skirmishing over which buildings to save and which to destroy and exactly how many additional housing units will be allowed in an already densely populated Hayes Valley, a neighborhood already struggling to cope with the freeway traffic---45,000 cars a day---on Octavia Blvd. and threatened by the city's stupid Market/Octavia Plan, which calls for 6,000 new housing units and 10,000 more residents in the area.

It's comical to read the Murk's whining defense of his spineless political maneuvering in reponse to Steve Zeltzer: Hey, he went to a whole bunch of meetings on the issue, and he did his best, even when he had the flu!

The only thing that can now prevent the Murk's sell-out is Zeltzer's idea of putting the issue on the ballot for city voters to decide, which would expose both the PC gay fig-leaf for the UC project and the Murk's lame political posturing. The Murk won't endorse the ballot initiative---until, that is, it gets enough signatures to get on the ballot. It will be fun to watch his political contortions---and those of Ammiano and Dufty---if and when that happens.

I took the letters below from a discussion board on the UC issue:

Steven Zeltzer to Ross Mirkarimi:

I was at the hearing and there was no questioning of any of the witnesses for Landmark status about their positions. In fact, not one supervisor said that the site should be preserved as a public space for an entire area regardless of whether a school could be brought in right now for a take-over. I don't agree that unless all the pieces are in place we have to go through with privatization of the site. Part of protecting the site is to designate the entire site as a landmark against the corporate development interests that want to privatize the site and build mostly market rate housing. There could have been a motion to make the site a landmark site entirely. If that was defeated it would have been clear that was your real position. Have you written anything about why the entire site should stay as a public education site with WPA and other historic features that should be protected for perpetuity?

I also do not buy that since Supervisor Amminano has bought into privatizing the site nothing can be done. A ballot initiative could be placed on the ballot to educate the residents of San Francisco about keeping this site a public space and educating them about the historic importance of this site. I also do not accept the "private" efforts to challenge UC's management privatization drive. Again have you written any public statements or opinion statements about why UC's privatization of public property must be halted. Have you organized any public/community/labor meetings to rally and educate people of the city against the property speculator and privateers who are now running the UC system?

Again, a public ballot initiative that places the importance of keeping this site as a public education site and challenges the right of the UC Regents including Richard Blum to push this through needs to be undertaken. You could also call on the SF representatives in the Assembly and Senate to rein in the operations of UC and put in legislation that will limit their role or expose it to public scrutiny. As you know the UC lawyer Elisabeth R. Gunther who you called to speak has a long long record of pushing developer interests and corporate interests. This fight is not over as you probably know and I would ask if you are willing to support a ballot initiative to allow the people of San Francisco to vote on this development project? One is being prepared now and your taking a stand for this and helping to build support for it would be a important step forward in letting the people decide.

In Solidarity,
Steve Zeltzer

Ross Mirkarimi to Steve Zeltzer:

You keep making misstatements about the scope of the project and my role. Also you seem to not understand how other elected officials have welcomed this project, from Mark Leno to Gavin Newsom to Tom Ammiano and the high majority of the Board of Supes and Planning. To attack me is evident that you really need to get your facts together, especially since you didn't even understand that Tom was going to oppose the landmarking appeal at the Board---during the vote consideration I was running back-and-forth between Ammiano and Peskin, while suffering from the flu mind you, trying to garner the votes for landmarking. Prior to that day I'm the one supervisor who met with the preservationists many times to strategize our play and fight for landmarking the WPA and other elements even they acknowledged it was very uphill policy wise, but yet, instead of recognizing my role you impugn me. Over the last two years all I did was fight this project which was well aired in the many Hayes Valley, Lower Haight and Western Addition meetings, as well as in the alternative press. I'm going to continue to fight and force the developers and UC to negotiate the project so that our lower income and host communities will benefit from this. I'm open to alternative strategies but they have to make sense since after several Planning hearings and scores of community meetings, we didn't have a lever to trump UC since they retain property title---only through state dispensation via legislature can we force a change in governance. A local ballot measure will not be binding since local law cannot trump state---the only connection is to use option as a symbolic lever. I offered to give you facts.

Ross Mirkarimi

Marla Schmalle to Ross Mirkarimi:
Dear Ross,

I hate to make a public fuss about this, but how can you mention changing Laguna from public to private zoning, which means from public to private benefit and use as an inevitable and logical next step? Why are you so protective of the Evans project as if that group is the major stake holder? Aren't you selling out to join Ammiano in courting the gay community for their housing project? It isn't about whether or not the OpenHouse units are worthy of City support ... I think they were planning before to locate on one of the new sites in the Octavia area. The problem is that because they are given a free "pad" for the housing they will build, the rest of the complex is now given over to private use. What does the green party stand for anyway?
Marla Schmalle

Cynthia Servetnik to Supervisor Mirkarimi:

In your September '07 newsletter, you stated, "The project sponsors need to take the city a little bit more seriously. UC will need to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in order to continue to receive support from the city."

As you know, the City of San Francisco is the lead agency under CEQA for the 55 Laguna Mixed Use Project Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Therefore, it is the Planning Department, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors that must comply with CEQA. I assert the compromise ordinance to landmark three of the five contributing structures on the historic Laguna Street Campus that you authored, and the Board of Supervisors adopted, does not comply with CEQA. CEQA contains a substantive mandate that public agencies refrain from approving projects with significant environmental effects if there are feasible alternatives or mitigation measures that can substantially lessen or avoid those effects.

The draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) acknowledges the proposed project would have significant unavoidable adverse impacts on historic resources which may render the campus ineligible as a potential National Register Historic District upon completion. The draft EIR selected the Preservation Alternative which retains all five structures, rather than the proposed project, as environmentally superior. To date, the UC Berkeley/AF Evans/openhouse project team has presented no evidence that that the Preservation Alternative is not feasible.

The Landmarks Board has presented conceptual drawings showing how all contributing structures could be retained while accommodating the same number of new housing units on the campus. The Friends of 1800 sponsored the Local Landmark designation report on the former San Francisco State Teacher's College at 55 Laguna Street. The Friends also submitted an application to the State Office of Historic Preservation nominating the campus to the National Registerwhich will be heard by the State Historical Resources Commission this fall. Based on these professionally prepared reports, the State Historic Preservation Officer, the Planning Department, the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, San Francisco Architectural Heritage (Heritage), and the San Francisco Preservation Consortium all agree the campus is eligible for the California Register.

Heritage and the Friends of 1800 have been talking with the UC Berkeley/AF Evans/openhouse project team for over two years. Unfortunately, their 55 Laguna Mixed Use Project still proposes to needlessly demolish two of the five contributing campus buildings---Middle Hall Gymnasium and Richardson Hall Annex---that the community could make good use of.

Cynthia Servetnick,
AICP, Co-Chair Save the UCBE Laguna Street Campus

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