Saturday, November 10, 2007

Matt Smith has one word of advice for Newsom: "highrise"

Like a lot of SF progressives, the SF Weekly's Matt Smith sees himself as a visionary. Fresh off witlessly bashing Mayor Newsom in last week's edition, Smith offers him some career advice. Like the character in The Graduate who offered Benjamin one-word career advice ("plastics"), Smith's offers a succinct bit of wisdom to Newsom: "highrise":

This brings us to our just-finished local election, and the question of what our newly re-elected mayor should do now that he'll be turning his aspirations toward state or national office. Gavin Newsom earned his second term in part by racing a decade ahead of the rest of America on the issue of gay rights. Rising to national stature from backwoods San Francisco might mean similarly separating nonsense from reality on the issue of what to do about global warming.

"Backwoods San Francisco"? Newsom may have been years ahead of the rest of the country on gay marriage, but his February, 2004 edict allowing gay marriages in SF was, tragically, about a year premature. If Newsom had waited until after the November elections that year, President Bush might not have been reelected, since the subsequent furor helped fuel a ferocious grassroots Republican campaign to reelect Bush:

To the extent the sleepy 2007 mayoral election was controversial, the one issue people complained most about was the supposedly troublesome fact that new skyscrapers are being built downtown. Emblematic of this ill-informed fretting was an article in a not-to-be-named local leftist political pamphlet that last week denounced high-rise buildings because residents "can't grow their own food"---as if Bay Area duplex dwellers somehow could. Just as supposedly bad for the environment, according to the pamphlet: Multistory buildings are wasteful because their construction requires "extra-enforced foundations" and "high-tinsel[sic] steel."

People during the campaign complained "most" about skyscrapers in SF? Where? When? There have been a few letters to the editor complaining about the first Rincon Hill highrise, but that's it, except for District 5 Diary, and I doubt that Smith had in mind my constant laments about Rincon Hill and the Market/Octavia Plan. No, that patently untrue statement was just a rhetorical device before Smith introduces a straw man in the form of a pamphlet by "a not-to-be-named local leftist" group---apparently a reference to the Bay Guardian---which he proceeds to ridicule, as if a fringe-left political group represents anything of significance. (Recall that last year Smith used the same approach after the injunction against the city on the Bicycle Plan, when he dubbed me a not-to-be-named "mean" person.)

The reality is that Mayor Newsom and our "progressive" Board of Supervisors are, alas, already pushing the kind of highrise development that Smith wants. But that's just not "meaningful" enough for Smith:

During the past couple of years San Francisco has endeavored to increase the density of apartments downtown. This policy has the obvious economic and social benefits of providing more much-needed housing while making it easier to walk — rather than drive — to shopping, work, and play. But an antidevelopment political culture here makes it difficult to increase local apartment density on a truly meaningful scale — unless you're a leader no longer running for local office. Perhaps a Gavin Newsom not tethered by the need for local re-election, who is focused on his national stature, could speed up this densifying trend and spread it beyond downtown and into the Richmond, the Van Ness area, Glen Park, the Mission, the central waterfront, and beyond.

Gavin Newsom will show state and national voters what a visionary he is by pushing highrises into the city's neighborhoods! This is not a new "vision" for Smith, who a few years ago advocated putting highrises on both sides of Golden Gate Park on Lincoln Ave. and Fulton St.

Smith, like the folks in the city's Planning Dept., think San Francisco should become like Manhattan or Hong Kong, because that would save the state from suburban sprawl, which will lead to ecological disaster. But why don't the suburbs build highrises to house the state's growing population? Why does Smith think that cities must be the first to sacrifice their quality of life?

The answer: Smith and his like-minded allies don't think a lot of highrises in SF's neighborhoods will degrade our quality of life. This is where the Transit Corridors theory comes into play. These folks think San Francisco---and, presumably, other cities---can build an unlimited amount of housing along main traffic arteries, because then people can just ride the bus, even though of course Muni can't handle its present passenger load on the city's primary transit corridors.

Unmentioned in Smith's latest piece is the crucial role bicycles play in his "vision." Those of us who worry that encouraging thousands of more residents in highrises is likely to lead to increased traffic congestion on city streets don't understand that many of these new residents will simply use bikes to get around here in Highriseville. This is why the SF Bicycle Coalition supports Smith's version of the future of San Francisco.

Even though Newsom has been deferential to the Bicycle Coalition and its many ideological fellow travelers here in SF, he's unlikely to take Smith's highrise advice. If he runs for Governor of California, for example, Newsom's willingness to sacrifice San Francisco's neighborhoods won't trump the two issues his Republican opponents are likely to use against him: gay marriage, which won't play as well in the hinterlands as it does here in Progressive Land. And immigration, since SF is officially a "sanctuary" city for illegal immigrants, which won't necessarily be seen as such a good idea by the rest of the state.

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