Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sunday Streets: "This was not Newsom's idea"

Everyone who has written or commented on the idea of closing waterfront streets on Sunday mornings is assuming that the idea really was Mayor Newsom's brainstorm that struck him on the road to/from Davos. A little investigation shows a different story. In this morning's Chronicle, C.W. Nevius cites opposition from Fisherman's Wharf merchants and some supervisors and blames "a lack of consensus-building from the mayor's office" for that opposition.

Okay, we know who's against the idea---wharf merchants and Supervisors Peskin, Elsbernd, and Alioto-Pier. But besides Mayor Newsom, who is for the idea? Just off the top of your head, guess which politically influential interest group in San Francisco would like the idea of shutting down city streets to motor vehicles. You got it: the city's bike people, who are as much anti-car as they are pro-bike. Any time they can make driving in the city more expensive and/or more inconvenient, they will do it.

To verify this, check out the archives of the anti-car chatboard where the bike people talk to each other.

Apparently the bike people have been working with the mayor's office on this misguided idea from the start:

The Supes think this is the Mayor's baby (he got the idea when he was in Davos!) so they are trying to mess with it. I just don't see the Supes supporting the Fishy Wharf merchants over a really good idea for any other reason. And if this is the case I think it would be good to let Peskin et. al. know before the meeting that this was not Newsom's idea. That it was initiated by walking, bicycling, and social justice people, but the Mayor's support was needed to make it happen, and why the hell are the Supes going against the SFBC and Walk SF when the city is so screwed up that we can't even get bike racks installed??? (emphasis added).

The bike people have contempt for both the Wharf merchants and their customers:

I'm a bit unclear why Aaron would be so swayed by the FWharf Merchants. I doubt many of them even live in the City. A handful of merchants with a failing business model are going to try and trump the merchants along the rest of the route: Ferry Bldg, South Beach, and BayView--- who all support this event---just to keep the crush of autos coming through our city to buy cable car souvenirs at the Wharf.

The bike people understand the interests of merchants on the Wharf better than the merchants themselves, because they understand the Big Picture wherein cars are obsolescent:

The Wharf has done everything in their power to make sure they will have hard time surviving in the new economy---the less private auto dependent economy---they have buried their heads in the sand and refuse to admit that the number of auto based visitors will continue to go down. Evolve or shrivel up and go out of business. I guess they are choosing shrivel up.

The same writer refers to "all the work we've done, the support we have, and the fact that we've got our ISCOTT approval..."

Sounds like the bike people have been working on the idea behind the scenes for some time. What does "ISCOTT" stand for? That's the acronym of the Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation, a committee representing all city agencies that have a direct interest in changes to city streets. ISCOTT considers lane changes, street parking, and street closures, among other things.

Funny but even a relatively well-informed guy like me didn't hear about the ISCOTT meeting that gave this street closing a green light. The reality: this is the way the bike people and their enablers in city government operate---they get what they want done by obscure committees in poorly-noticed meetings. This is how they were operating before the injunction against the Bicycle Plan. Get some committee to okay taking away street parking and/or a traffic lane for a bike lane, declare that piece of the Bicycle Plan "categorically exempt" from environmental review under CEQA, and the next thing anyone knows DPW is out taking away parking meters and striping a bike lane on a city street.

This is why both Judge Warren and Judge Busch gave us an injunction against the city; we were able to show them that this was how the city was implementing the 500-page Bicycle Plan incrementally with no environmental review. It's called "piecemealing" in CEQA parlance, and it's clearly illegal. A city or a developer has to do environmental review of a whole project before it's implemented, rather than doing it in pieces with no review.

Not surprisingly, the SF Bicycle Coalition, which represents the city's anti-car folks, endorses the idea of closing the Embarcadero:

A major effort to win more car-free space, which the SFBC has been advocating for, is being threatened. Sunday Streets is an exciting pilot program to create a nearly 5-mile, car-free route scheduled for Sundays, August 31 and September 14. Check out the cover story in the most recent Tube Times for our report on this amazing opportunity...

Turns out that the idea already has its own website and a long list of supporters, which they call "partners."

Seems like the bike people and the mayor have been working behind the scenes on this project for quite a while---long enough to get all this done before springing it on the rest of us on the front page of the Chronicle last Saturday (Car-free parties planned for Embarcadero).

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At 5:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice conspiaracy theory Rob! Get a clue. The same sort of "behind closed door" planning happens for EVERY major event in San Francisco - why would it be any different for this one? The item was posted on the ISCOTT agenda - what's so secret about that?

At 7:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So are you at the point where you oppose anything the bike coalition supports as a matter-of-course?

At 7:05 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Seems like the merchants---major stakeholders on this proposal---on the Wharf weren't informed of the ISCOTT meeting. Nevius's column tells a story of poor "outreach" by the mayor's office. People in the neighborhood organizations just have to learn to scan the agendas of all BOS and ISCOTT meetings, and they might as well look at MTA and SFCTA agendas while they are at it.

Newsom and the bike people are slow learners on the process issue. After the Bicycle Plan fiasco, one would think they would proceed more cautiously. But they didn't reach out to the Wharf business folks because they probably knew they would raise objections. At least when the merchants on Market Street---I linked the story for you---were steamrolled by Dustin White and Leah Shahum, they were invited to the committee hearing that got the job done.

But it's just suspicious that no one seemed to know much about it until it hit the front page of the Chronicle. By that time you folks had all the usual suspects lined up in support and even had the website up and running. Now a little retrospective outreach is taking place. Nice try, though.

At 9:35 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"So are you at the point where you oppose anything the bike coalition supports as a matter-of-course?"

As I've tried to show, the SFBC is more anti-car than they are pro-bike in a town with 460,150 registered vehicles, 1000 Muni buses, millions of tourists driving into the city every year, and 35,000 people driving in to work from other parts of the Bay Area. If you screw up traffic for cars, you're also going to screw it up for tourism---our major industry---not to mention Muni and emergency vehicles.

The street closing idea is just the latest ploy by the anti-car folks, with the SFBC and its enablers, as always, in a leading role.

And the SFBC supports awful housing/Planning projects, like the Market/Octavia Plan and UC's ripoff of the property on lower Haight Street because they discourage developers from providing adequate parking for the new housing units---6,000 in the M/O Plan alone. And they oppose/eliminate parking whenever and wherever they can. They opposed that great new underground garage in Golden Gate Park and the much-needed Hastings College garage in the Tenderloin. It's just nutty and bad public policy.

At 11:50 AM, Anonymous those dudes said...

The SFCTA's recent study on parking found merchants "thought" that 72% of their customers "drove exclusively" to the neighborhood, when in fact over 70% of their customers came by means other than car. Seems like merchant thinking is pretty far from reality...

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

So why not invite them to the ISCOTT meeting on closing the Embarcadero to traffic on Sundays? What was the point of all the stealth? Interesting that you bike people got Newsom to walk point for your scheme. Again, why the subterfuge? The answer: the bike people in SF are not terribly popular outside their own narrow PC political circles, and they knew they would get a lot of negative feedback if they were out front on this. But you got it anyway, and the bike people are even more unpopular than ever!

At 6:37 PM, Anonymous those dudes said...

There wasn't any stealth or subterfuge...I'm sure you'd like to see the City going door to door posting meeting notices for the hundreds of City meetings that happen every month, but this would be a huge waste of time and taxpayer money. If folks want to get informed, its pretty easy to do so.

At 6:45 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The subterfuge is through the hiding-in-plain-sight strategy. Of course everyone can theoretically monitor the agendas of every city agency but few do. But surely the city should notify the major stakeholders, which includes merchants on Fisherman's Wharf. Even Chris Daly didn't know anything about it (but Newsom probably figured getting Daly involved would have been the kiss of death for the plan).

At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@those dudes by "merchants" do they mean that nut job David Heller from the Geary Merchants group? He's not even on the same planet having once said nobody takes transit to get their groceries.


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