Monday, June 09, 2014

Chronicle sneers at city voters

No Wall on the Waterfront

John King hates it that city voters passed Proposition B. He thinks his pals in the Planning Department were doing a great job before the unwashed decided to interfere with those experts. In his front page, above-the-fold story in yesterday's Chronicle, he starts with a sneer in the first sentence (S.F. waterfront development must prepare for rising seas):

Now that San Francisco voters have said they want final say on waterfront development, we'll see if they have the courage and smarts to tackle the real job at hand---facing up to the need to deal with rising sea levels.

Yeah, if city voters think they're so smart, why don't they deal with global warming? Bet they don't have the guts to deal with "the real job at hand" on the waterfront, which is rising sea levels. But the "job at hand" for city voters last week was only about height limits on the waterfront and nothing else.

King can't disguise his contempt for the outcome of the election:

But this requires large-scale planning that accepts the complexity of a volatile future. Compare that to the regularity with which Prop. B leaders looking to scare voters would conjure up images of Fontana Towers---a pair of buildings next to Aquatic Park completed in 1960, 15 years before most of today's San Franciscans were even born.

Projects like the hideous Fontana Towers are just the kind of thing voters were worried about, as the developer-friendly Planning Department, Planning Commission, mayor, and Board of Supervisors were okaying projects that routinely violated height limits on the waterfront, like 8 Washington---rejected by city voters---and the proposed Warriors' arena, which Mayor Lee at one point thought would be his "legacy" project. City voters understood that nothing at all "complex" was happening, as City Hall mobilized city departments in a desperate attempt to defeat Proposition B and keep the money from big projects flowing.

King talks to someone at SPUR for yesterday's story---a group that also opposed Prop. B, supports highrise development in the city, and a favorite source of soundbites when King writes about development in San Francisco, though he usually talks to Gabriel Metcalf, SPUR's Executive Director.

This time it was left to Emily Badger of the Washington Post to use Metcalf as a source for a story that scolds us for passing Prop. B and ignoring "professional planners":

In theory, this takes power from generally unpopular developers and places it in the hands of the public instead. In reality, however, it yanks influence from a very different group: city professionals whose full-time job it is to weigh the insanely intricate implications of new development for affordable housing, property-tax coffers, economic development, public benefits, transportation infrastructure and more. It's the job of professional planners, in other words, to assess projects for the benefit of the entire city, from the perspective of many competing interests. It's hard to expect---or even ask---voters to do that. "The planning process involves a lot of complicated tradeoffs, whereas the ballot process involves simplistic slogans," said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research nonprofit that opposed the ballot measure.

Bullshit. City departments were desperately singing for their supper on the Planning Department's website before the election. They all wanted to keep the "revenue" from those big waterfront projects flowing into their departments.

The MTA's Ed Reiskin reminded us that big projects make more money for the city than small projects, translating that Big Thought into bureaucratic language: "As noted above, smaller scale projects are typically more limited in their infrastructure contribution."

It's unanimous at the Chronicle that We the Rabble made a mistake by ignoring all these experts and passing Prop. B.

The Chronicle editors opposed Proposition B, and C.W. Nevius told us that if we passed Prop. B "we're done" as a city. Stick a fork in this, pal!

On the other hand, City Insider Heather Knight yesterday found the election "one of the most boring elections in recent city history." But Knight often finds our elections tedious to write about. She hopes the November election will be more interesting, but as per the official party line at the Chronicle---and City Hall, Streetsblog, and the Bicycle Coalition---she has a sneer and a slur for the attempt to put the Restore Transportation Balance initiative on the ballot: 

A group of car-loving residents is trying to qualify an advisory measure for the ballot that would call for restricting parking meter hours and building new parking garages. In transit-first San Francisco, we'd give this the same odds as scoring a fog-free summer.

It's probably too much to ask that Knight to do any reporting that contradicts official Chronicle/City Hall doctrine, but the initiative is really about the opposition to City Hall's anti-car policies that a growing number of people in the neighborhoods find misguided, to put it mildly.

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