Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fang challenged by bike guy

An uninspiring race for the BART District 8 seat: Republican James Fang is being challenged by long-time San Francisco bike guy, Bert Hill, a member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee and favorite of the SF Bicycle Coalition. 

At least there's a real campaign going on in that district, whereas here in District 9 we're stuck with the anti-car Tom Radulovich.

From the Bay Citizen article this morning:

Fang’s opponent, [Bert]Hill, a former Bechtel engineer who runs a consulting firm called Bicycle Commuter Services, is mounting a direct challenge to Fang’s leadership. Hill, 62, said less money should be spent on big construction projects and more on maintenance, cleaning and connecting BART to buses and shuttles. “They’re too suburb, they’re too parking lot; they’re too focused on automobiles,” Hill said of the BART leadership. “They need to focus the money on catching up on deferred maintenance.”

I hate to say it, but I have to agree with Hill, in spite of his anti-car perspective. Rail projects are not only more expensive to build but more expensive to maintain (which is why the $2 billion subway to Chinatown is also a terrible way to spend our transportation money, since Muni struggles just to keep enough buses in service.)

But by playing the ethnic card gratuitously, the Republican Fang makes it harder for Democrats and independents to vote for him:

“Regardless of what people say about James Fang,” he said in an interview this week, “they do have to acknowledge that at least I know transit, and that’s good for San Francisco and quote-un-quote Asian-Americans.”

Does Fang really think he's representing "Asian-Americans" as a member of the BART board? Maybe Asian-Americans take some pride in the fact that he's an elected official, but it's his function on that board to represent everyone in his district and the people of San Francisco.

After his brother accused BART management of not properly featuring the Asian Heritage Street Celebration---which the general manager plausibly denied---Fang makes another ethnic reference that makes him sound like an even bigger jerk:

Fang said his actions at the meeting were not about his brother. “To ignore community events like this is not in the best interest of BART,” he said. “I will give them a little bit of a break because they’re white and they probably don’t understand how important it is for Americans of Asian ancestry to be valued.”

The political culture in San Francisco has enough problems without elected officials playing the ethnic card when it's not called for. Fang's boorishness is reminiscent of the Ed Jew scandal several years ago, when some members of the Asian-American community were hyperventilating and saying that Jew was a victim of racism, even that he was being "lynched."

Chinatown's Rose Pak had the last word on that argument: "I wish these people would stop talking so everybody doesn't think we're all morons."

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At 6:35 AM, Anonymous Joel said...

So Rob, is this an endorsement?

At 9:28 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

If Hill is elected, it would mean the city would be represented on the BART board by two anti-car guys. But anti-car reps can't do much damage to our transportation system on this board. But Hill is right on the important issue of how to invest our public transportation money: buses are a much cheaper and better investment. Fang's notion that BART should also be a jobs program is also wrong-headed, especially for a Republican.

At 10:23 AM, Blogger Alexei said...

Sounds like Bert Hill supports Bart on Geary St. a lot more than Fang, which seems like a no-brainer, even if it's unlikely to happen in the next decade. It certainly makes a whole lot more sense than building massively expensive extensions into suburbs where the ridership is 5000 people a day. I'm no expert, but considering the number of people on the miserable 38, BART to the richmond would have fifty thousand people a day, easy.

At 4:15 PM, Blogger Antonio White said...

Hi Rob, I agree with everything you say except for two points: 1. Bert is a more than a bike guy, he's retired Bechtel financial cost and project manager with over 25 years experience in multibillion dollar development projects and 2. the notion that Bert is running a boring campaign. Please take a look at his fun Movie Trailer spoofs that are garnering lots of attention online. I posted a story on CNN's iReport telling the story behind the humorous approach to getting the word out. You can view the videos on Bert's campaign site or read the CNN report at

At 5:14 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

He's a bike guy, which means that he's also anti-car in SF. The entire anti-car establishment is listed on his site as supporters. He's a member of the Bicycle Advisory Board and has taught bicycle safety for years. Tom Radulovich has already been waving the anti-car banner so vigorously his arms must be getting tired. Do we really need two anti-car guys on that board?

The videos are mildly clever but kind of pointless---an attempt at cleverness to prove what, exactly? That Hill has a sense of humor? That Hill's supporters are oh-so creative? Making public policy into a joke, even if well-executed, seems, well, problematic.

Of course a lot of Asians will vote for Fang, just as the bike people will vote for you. There's an idea for a movie: The Bike People Fight the Asians! The Bicycle Coalition's idea of taking away a traffic lane on Post Street for a bike lane in Japantown was rejected by that community several years ago. Maybe we could make use of that plot line in the script.

As a safety instructor, at least Hill has a realistic sense of the dangers of riding a bike, as a story in the Chronicle and my blog post five years ago.

Still, Hill might transcend all these handicaps and unfortunate associations and do a good job if elected to the BART board.


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