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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