Thursday, February 28, 2008

Inside the progressive bubble in SF

It's reality-check time once again here in Progressive Land, where our political leadership and many "activists" like to pretend we aren't part of those rather vulgar United States---or even part of California, for that matter. The political/intellectual insularity naturally begins in the approach progressives take to local issues.

Exhibit #1: The SF Weekly's Matt Smith likes to pretend he's not a San Francisco progressive, but he fits the prog specs on the essentials: he supports radically increasing the city's population density with residental highrises, he's a bike guy, and thus far has been nothing but critical of Mayor Newsom. This week he has a muddled, cutesy column pretending to support the mayor, particularly in his appointment of Wade Crowfoot as the city's "director of climate protection initiatives" at $160,720 a year, 40% of which will be paid by MTA, even though Muni doesn't have money to hire enough bus drivers or buy new buses. 

Why does Smith support the creation of a make-work job for a city bureaucrat when the city is awash in red ink? Because Crowfoot evidently gave Smith an interview, and, just as important, Crowfoot is fashionably anti-car and pro-bike:

Crowfoot will also ensure that the city planning, transportation, and parking and traffic departments complete a series of detailed plans and environmental studies required to counter an anti-environmentalist lawsuit that attempted to stop the city from creating bike lanes. Officials have been laggard so far.

Readers of this blog have a better understanding of that issue, but, for obvious reasons, Smith doesn't read District 5 Diary---click on "Matt Smith" at the end of this post to see why---or apparently even the recent press release from MTA that laid out the city's schedule for the EIR on the Bicycle Plan. The memo explained that the complexity and the scope of the citywide Bicycle Plan requires an equally thorough environmental review that will hold up in court. In fact, the draft EIR on the Bicycle Plan is due to be released later this year.

Like the SF Bicycle Coalition, bike zealot Smith thinks this isn't fast enough. Crowfoot told Smith what he wanted to hear:

To hear Crowfoot describe his agenda is to ask why the city's "progressive" supervisors, supposedly the most environmentally friendly cats in town, chose to raise a weeks-long public stink about his appointment. Why not rejoice that the mayor has appointed someone who can bust bureaucratic heads to establish bike lanes, improve bus service, and get people out of their cars?

The supervisors raised a legitimate issue about who was paying Crowfoot's salary, and they also understand---after losing in court and being hit with an injunction---that the city is under a court order to prepare an EIR on the 527-page Bicycle Plan, which it is now doing. They understand that the city has to answer to Judge Peter Busch on the EIR, not to Wade Crowfoot, who is just another uninformed windbag on the issue. All Smith knows is that the city isn't creating any more bike lanes and that Crowfoot made some encouraging anti-car noises when he talked to him. This makes Smith a typical inside-the-bubble, San Francisco progressive---ignorant, anti-car, and oddly obsessed with the completely illusory political significance of bicycles.

Exhibit #2: The SF Bay Guardian delineates the parameters of the progressive political bubble more precisely on a weekly basis. This week they come in late and they come in lame on the Market/Octavia Plan, just like they did on Rincon Hill and UC's land-grab on lower Haight Street: It's supposedly all about affordable housing and transit first---that is, anti-car---principles. "This is supposed to be a transit-first plan, and in the early drafts it was. Now, at the final stages, the Planning Department has changed it to add a lot more parking." It's not clear what the Guardian is referring to here, but the Planning Dept. has been adding to/changing the M/O Plan continuously, even though the period for public comment was over in 2005.

The Guardian fails to inform its readers about the sheer scope of the M/O Plan, which rezones thousands of properties in the heart of the city---it's not confined to a single neighborhood at all---changing regulations on density, height, and parking to encourage developers to build 6,000 new housing units for 10,000 new residents in an already densely-populated part of the city. One of the reasons city progressives have been MIA on this issue is that they correctly perceived that the M/O Plan is aggressively anti-car---that's why the SF Bicycle Coalition supports it---allowing parking spaces for, at most, only half the new housing units. 

And the EIR on the M/O Plan includes no serious studies or proposed mitigations for the impact 10,000 new residents in the area are going to have on city streets and our already-crowded Muni. Nor does the final EIR include the landmark study required by CEQA, though the city finally hired a consultant to do that essential task last year, even though Planning has been working on the M/O Plan since at least 2002. Why should protecting the many victorian buildings in the area be an afterthought?

At least the Guardian editorial questions the Plan's encouragement of 40-story highrises in the Market/Van Ness area. They don't oppose the idea as unacceptable out front, mind you; that would be too radical. They just think the idea needs more study: "The city needs to do a real study of how shadows and wind affect people on the street before it approves more high-rises."

This is the same laughable timidity the Guardian featured in its editorial on the Rincon Hill highrises a few years ago. They didn't challenge the idea of thousands of highrise condos for the rich but simply thought that there needed to be fewer of them!

Exhibit #3:
The SF Bicycle Coalition organized a demonstration on Masonic Ave. on behalf of "a safer Masonic Avenue." Of course Supervisor Mirkarimi showed up---he supports whatever the SFBC wants and hates to miss a photo-op. 

Rachel Kraai, speaking for the SFBC: "There is an overwhelming consensus in the community that Masonic Avenue does not work for any of its users...Intersections along the corridor continue to menace pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers---particularly known safety hazards such as the Fell-Masonic intersection." Untrue and a typically dishonest SFBC statement. 

In reality Masonic now works very well for the tens of thousands of people who drive on the street every day and/or take the #43 Masonic bus. I used to work at a retirement facility on Masonic and never felt unsafe and/or threatened by traffic on Masonic walking to work. True, the traffic moves rather briskly from Geary to Fell Street, which is probably what the SFBC and the bike people really hate---that people driving cars can move easily and conveniently anywhere in San Francisco.

What the SFBC and its many enablers in City Hall want to do is take away a traffic lane and/or street parking on Masonic Avenue to put bike lanes on that major North/South city traffic artery. It's a dumb idea that will make traffic on Masonic a lot worse, which means the city will probably try to do it.

But the dishonest part of this campaign is that the SFBC---and Supervisor Mirkarimi---knows that Masonic Avenue is part of the Bicycle Plan and therefore part of the environmental impact report now being prepared by the city. Since the city is prevented by the injunction from making any changes to city streets listed in the Bicycle Plan before the EIR is finished, all talk about "improving" Masonic before that is nothing but demagoguery. 

One wonders if the SFBC told this to all the folks who took part in their demonstration and/or signed their petition.

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