Friday, April 20, 2012

15 long minutes with Supervisor Olague

Since the more she talks the worse she sounds, Supervisor Olague was wise to limit the Haighteration interview to 15 minutes.

Taking the issues in the order discussed:

I’m working with [District 1 Supervisor] Eric Mar now to try to include financial services in the definition of formula retail, so that if a financial service wants to come into a neighborhood, then they would have to go through conditional use. Which isn’t to say that it would be prohibited, but at least the public would have the opportunity to weigh in on it. And there’s a lot of other policies that play into those issues.

This is a murky reference to the new Citibank branch on Divisadero that some PC city progressives---is there any other kind?---opposed because, well, it's a bank, which are morally questionable to the fringe left. Almost every bank in the country is part of a chain. Are there mom-and-pop, locally-owned banks? There are credit unions, but they don't have many branches and ATM machines. Where do Olague and Mar bank? Why not just refer to the Citibank on Divisadero, since that  was what prompted Supervisor Mar's proposal? One can see her problem as the interview continues. The more specific Olague gets on issues the more trouble she gets into.

The interviewer asks her about Mayor Lee removing Mirkarimi as sheriff:

We can’t talk about it, because we’ve been prohibited, because we may need to weigh in on it at the Board level. So we’re not allowed to comment on that at all...It’s something that I don’t want to comment on at this time. And it’s also too broad a question so it’s kind of hard to...
Question: Well I could get more specific.
Olague: [laughs] Well, it seems too leading, so I would rather just not comment on it.

The interviewer knows he's being stonewalled, but he should have asked at least one follow-up question: Who has "prohibited"  and/or "not allowed" her or anyone else on the Board of Supervisors from talking about the Mirkarimi case? Olague shows a remarkable timidity on this issue. As a supervisor, you're expected to deal with the difficult issues, even when "it's kind of hard" to do.

And we have been hearing some back and forth[on redistricting] around the 55 Laguna site. There’s some controversy around it, because there are some people in the LGBTQ community who are very invested in seeing the Open House site go to District 8, because they felt that it was a community of interest.

More euphemisms. By "community of interest," Olague means "gay"---or LGBTQ (We're now supposed to add a "Q" to the eye chart-like list?) Supervisor Wiener, who is gay, wants the old UC Extension site in his district because 80 of the 450 planned housing units are supposed to be for gay seniors (That's illegal under fair housing laws, but I bet they'll get around that somehow). Instead of saying that there's no such thing as a gay political district in San Francisco---or a black district, or a Hispanic district, or a white district, etc.---Olague in effect endorses identity politics for San Francisco districts.

Incredibly, Olague thought splitting that development in two---half in District 5 and half in District 8---was a sensible idea:

One of the solutions initially was to split it. But I was informed by a member of the Redistricting Task Force that that was impossible, because it was a census block. So based on that information, I thought that it would be respectful to have a conversation first with [District 8] Supervisor Wiener, who had expressed an interest in seeing that remain in D8.

Olague is familiar with "55 Laguna"---known to most of us as the UC Extension site on lower Haight Street---because as a Planning Commissioner she endorsed allowing UC to rip off that property---zoned for "public use" for 150 years previously---for a massive, for-profit housing development. UC had the property tax-free from the city for more than 50 years because it's a public university and education was its mission. Olague and City Hall are allowing UC to use the property to fatten its real estate portfolio against the interests of the people of San Francisco, using the gay housing issue as a political figleaf for that betrayal.  

But my experience with that project was pretty extensive because when I was on the Planning Commission, we heard 55 Laguna. It was a project that we voted on. I’m very familiar with it. Also at the time that project was passed through, the D8 Supervisor [Bevan Dufty] was conflicted out due to his proximity to the address. And then advocates and the D5 Supervisor and I were engaged in ensuring that the Open House site was low-income. So a lot of the advocacy and a lot of the work on that project was really driven by D5. It doesn’t matter, but certainly there are some commonalities. There’s a large LGBTQ population in D5, and also there’s a large renter population in D5. So it could have gone either way, but I felt like I needed to be respectful of the Supervisor and have the conversation with him before advocating for or going public and saying we would be happy to have 55 Laguna and say that it makes perfect sense to include it in our district.

Hard to figure out from this verbal thicket what happened with the property. Yes, apparently the gay senior housing---as I say, only 80 of the 450 housing units---will be "affordable," but the rest will be market-rate. Bevan Dufty wimped around and waffled on the UC issue for years, before he was able to conflict himself out on the issue---that must have been a relief for him---when he bought property on nearby Waller Street. The "D5 Supervisor" reference is to Supervisor Mirkarimi---why not just say so?---who talked tough in the beginning but of course eventually rolled over for UC, the Planning Dept., and the Planning Commission.

District 5 voters need to hear more from Supervisor Olague on the UC issue, since the deal not only betrays the interests of the people of San Francisco but it involves other issues---identity politics, dense development---450 housing units on six acres---and the destructive "transit corridors" planning doctrine that allows almost unlimited development along busy city traffic corridors.

The interviewer asks Olague about the proposed bike lanes on Oak and Fell Streets:

San Francisco has a transit-first policy. We have policy goals that include seeing an increase to 20% bicycling by 2020 or something. So we have policies, we have goals, we have community plans. We have a lot of things that led to this whole vision of the city being a transit-first city. So I think that, to that end, that’s how we should be thinking in terms of how our behavior and how our decisions help us reach those goals and also be true to the policies that we already have in place.

To decipher this response, readers need to know that the bike people's enablers in City Hall long ago amended the City Charter to include bicycles in the official definition of Transit First (City Charter, Municipal Transportation Agency, Section 8A.115). The question of course was about bike lanes. "Transit" as the rest of us understand it---buses, streetcars, trains, etc.---is defined differently in the City Charter. Hence, when I complain that the Bicycle Plan is going to slow down a number of Muni lines---that is, actual transit---the bike people respond that transit first includes bicycles in San Francisco!

The notion that 20% of city commuters will be riding bikes to work by 2020 is ludicrous. That City Hall has adopted the Bicycle Coalition's slogan---it used to be 10% by 2010---just shows how wacky city traffic policy is. Reality check: only 3.5% of city commuters now ride bikes compared to 2.1% in 2000! A serious attempt to reach the 20% goal will only create gridlock on city streets, as traffic lanes and street parking are removed to make bike lanes.

Olague gets around to addressing the issue the interviewer had in mind: the proposed bike lanes on the Panhandle:

The Bike Oak thing is like a 2-block stretch. It’s like 70 to 80 parking spaces that might be removed. So, the issue there of course is around the parking. We looked at all the different scenarios too. Some people were saying, “Well, they should go up Page.” Well, the topography is not conducive to going that route. Other people were saying, “Well, you could go down Hayes.” Well, a lot of people aren’t going to go down Hayes. It’s kind of a little bit illogical, it doesn’t follow the course of cycling. It seems when you even look at the other alternatives, I’ve been told by the MTA that they would result in an even greater loss of parking.

Page Street is in fact "conducive" to cycling, since many cyclists use it now. Heading west on Page, many cyclists have to walk their bikes up the hill between Divisadero and Broderick, but otherwise it's a sensible alternative to eliminating street parking in a neighborhood where it's in short supply---it's closer to 90 parking spots that will be eliminated, by the way---to make bike lanes on Oak and Fell Streets. And there's nothing at all "illogical" about using Hayes Street on the other side of the Panhandle, since all the city would have to do is mark the street with sharrows, not remove any street parking.

People have talked about removing a lane of traffic. That’s not a bad idea---I think that would be something that would be nice to look at---but apparently people who live on the west side who use that route to commute from that side of town to downtown or wherever aren’t really supportive of removing a lane of traffic. So, it seems to me that we’re kind of stuck with this, “Well, should we create this vision for this greenway that would be conducive to families riding bikes?” I think it’s a logical sort of progression along the Wiggle, and would create a beautiful greenway, that even pedestrians and others would learn to appreciate.

It might be "nice" to remove a traffic lane from Fell and Oak Streets? Since those two busy streets now carry more than 50,000 vehicles a day, that would in fact create chronic gridlock, not a "beautiful greenway," on the Panhandle, where traffic now moves pretty well. "Families riding bikes"? Anyone who lets his kid ride a bike on either Fell or Oak Street should be arrested for child endangerment.

Olague was finally rescued from the interviewer by her assistant: "Olague’s aide indicates that she needs to move on to another meeting."

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At 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 11:06 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Olague mentions Japantown a couple of times. Just for the record, according to the Japantown Task Force, people of Japanese ancestry are only 10% of that neighborhood's population. There are more black people (17%) living there than Japanese. And there are more white people (44%) than any ethnic group.

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Japantown thing is only the tip of the iceberg. A much bigger issue is that only .02 % of the people in San Francisco are named "Fransisco" or "Francis", and of them, only 3% are in fact saints.

The problem is more acute down south in Los Angeles - the "City of Angels", which has no actual angels.

Then of course there is "Indiana" - a state that has .03% Indians. And half of them are from India - technically Indians but not the Native American Indians that the state was named after.

At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Identity Politics", identity districts...that's no way to run a city. What ever happened to giving back to the community as a whole instead of advocating for a particular "identity".

The whole "good city" movement was undertaken almost 80 years ago to do away with such fractionated, divisive politics of self interest. You can't run a city that way.

At 2:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bank branch that started the whole discussion about formula retail is a Chase Bank "store" (that's what they call them now) not a Citibank. And while I'm decidedly not a progressive, I don't see any reason why banks should be treated differently than any other sort of retailer when it comes to chain store ("formula retail") rules.

The problems with allowing unrestricted formula retail are many. These national chains can afford to pay more – a lot more – and so property owners are happy to kick out small local retailers, or hold space vacant for months or even years, until they can secure a formula retailer. Allowing too much formula retail in a neighborhood destroys any unique character that might have been present, and often replaces neighborhood-serving stores with stores which are non-neighborhood-serving.

I find no problem with allowing neighborhoods to weigh in on proposed new formula retailers by making them go through a conditional use permit process just like a McDonalds or a Walgreens would have to endure. On the other hand, I do think that some availability of banking locations is vital to a neighborhood's prosperity, and I wish they'd carved out an exception for neighborhoods which have an absolute ban on formula retail uses. Chain bank branches ought to be allowed in those neighborhoods with conditional use authorization rather than being banned outright.

Olague's use of the term "community of interest" is not any attempt at a euphemism, that term is one of the factors the redistricting task force was legally obligated to consider as it redrew the lines. It may sound like politico-speak to the uninformed, but it's part of the language of that particular endeavor (redistricting) and I find it a little silly to criticize it.

I agree with much of the rest of your commentary, and am not a big fan of Olague's, but I think it was a little silly to critique her for speaking about the fact that many (most, even) would consider the LGBTQ (agree with you about the Q) community to be a community of interest as defined in the redistricting rules.

At 3:43 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

My point on Japantown: Since residents of actual Japanese ancestry are a small minority in that neighborhood, what exactly is City Hall trying to "preserve" when it talks about preserving Japantown?

The answer: a marketing strategy for that neighborhood, which has some Japanese restaurants and shops. This is okay with me, but it's silly to pretend that there is a "Japanese" neighborhood there like there is a real Chinatown in San Francisco.

At 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Olague apparently accepts the SFBC lie that the issue around the Oak St. bike lane is about parking. Wrong! It's about SAFETY. Mixing slow speed bikes and cars moving at 35 mph on the same pavement is a known traffic hazard...for the cyclists. That's why Hayes is a smarter plan. But then again, judging from the about 50% of bike riders in SF who don't wear helmets, safety of their diminished brains doesn't seem to be a great concern.

At 5:09 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The lie is the claim about "safety" for cyclists, since the city has no convincing evidence that the area is in fact dangerous for cyclists. It's about making people on bikes feel "comfortable" and nothing else.


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