Monday, February 28, 2011

Marshall Foster makes good

I wasn't at all surprised that Marshall Foster, who started his planning career here in San Francisco, was made Seattle's Planning Director earlier this month. I spotted him as a comer way back in 2005, when he hosted one of those community outreach meetings that Planning is obligated to stage to legitimize whatever destructive project is on its agenda.

The press release announcing his Seattle appointment jogged my memory: "Before coming to Seattle in 2006, Foster served as director of City Greening Initiatives and oversaw center city planning for the City of San Francisco, California."

That's one way of describing the Market and Octavia Plan. A more accurate description: the Planning Department has designated a huge chunk of the middle of San Francisco for dense, highrise development to conform to the trendy "smart growth" dogma that young planners like Foster think is visionary. The M/O Plan rezones thousands of properties, eliminating set-backs, backyards, loosening density and height restrictions, and of course restricting parking, which is why the Bicycle Coalition approves. (The city has been temporarily spared the implementation of the plan---including 40-story highrises at Market and Van Ness---only because the Great Recession is making it hard for developers to get construction loans.)

When I first encountered Foster at a community outreach meeting on the M/O Plan, I was so astonished that such a callow young man was in charge of such a destructive project I asked him how old he was and was surprised when he said he was thirty. Then I asked him how much the city had spent on its lavishly-printed draft of the plan, and our personal relationship was effectively over.

I next encountered Foster in a document he wrote for Planning in favor of allowing UC to hijack the old extension property on lower Haight Street---a block off Octavia Blvd. and in the middle of the M/O Plan area---for a massive housing development to fatten that predatory institution's bottom line. Housing development is a lot more lucrative than night classes for working people. (My analysis of the document.)

But young Foster didn't have to long endure encounters with riff-raff like me at community meetings. Mayor Newsom soon plucked him out of the Planning Dept.---one gifted hustler recognized another---and put him in charge of some sort of "green" bullshit in the mayor's office.

Nor was I surprised to learn that Foster is a bike guy; he even gave money to the Bicycle Coalition, which all up-and-coming politicos and bureaucrats do here in Progressive Land. And John King bought the Newsom/Foster line when Foster was in the Mayor's office: "We should all be having a wonderful time re-creating our public realm."

Next thing I knew Foster was off to Seattle and his rendezvous with planning destiny. I was sorry to see him go; I was looking forward to recording his inexorable rise and mocking him all the way as the personification of what I dislike about San Francisco. Alas, fate has cruelly deprived me of that pleasure.

But the least I can do is share a video of Foster in action in Seattle so that you can see what we missed when we lost him to the North country. Not since I transcribed a talk Mayor Newsom gave to the Planning Commission four years ago have I encountered a presentation so devoid of content:

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