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Uncategorized Flipcharts, planners -- and the ongoing attack on blue-collar...

Flipcharts, planners — and the ongoing attack on blue-collar jobs in Soma

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Planner Steve Wertheim explains how a forum on Soma planning will work.
Planner Steve Wertheim explains how a forum on Soma planning will work.

By Zelda Bronstein

NOVEMBER 21, 2014 — On Tuesday, November 18, from 6-8 pm, the San Francisco Planning Department held an open house on the draft Central SoMa Plan at SPUR’s spiffy headquarters at 654 Mission.

The controversial plan envisions a massive upzoning (more height and density) and a corresponding amount of highrise, high-rent development in the area, as this map from TODCO, Tenants and Owners Development Corporation, makes clear.

48hillstodcomap

The proposed drastic changes have recently been highlighted by the controversy over Kilroy Realty Corporation’s proposal to build a highrise office tower at 575 Sixth Street, part of the site of the San Francisco Flower Mart.

The threat to the Flower Mart encapsulates the plan’s larger, most disputed feature: the displacement and likely destruction of at least 1,800 blue-collar jobs.

I started covering the plan in October 2013. Since then, this is the planners’ first effort at community engagement about their proposal. I’m always curious to see how public officials handle citizen participation. To what extent do they encourage in-depth discussion of the issues at hand? How much control do they seek to exercise over that discussion? The usual answer to the first question is, not much, and to the second, a whole lot.

It briefly seemed as if this event might be different, which is to say, intended to promote meaningful and genuinely democratic conversation: The Thursday before the open house, people who’d signed up for the event received an email from the Planning Department that included four new policy papers dealing with affordable housing; PDR, or production, distribution, and repair—as industrial uses are known in San Francisco—arts/ arts/non-profits (in other words the uses that can’t afford market rents, especially in today’s market); privately owned-public spaces; and community facilities. They’re all posted on the department’s website page under “Plan Refinement,” along with statements about retail, hotels and requirements for commercial use on large sites.

I printed out the four policy papers and brought them to the meeting.

When I arrived, one glance at the room revealed that it was business as usual. The chairs had been arranged in four circles, with a flip chart on an easel assigned to each group.

I have an aversion to flip charts. The sight of one at a meeting reminds me of the countless other meetings I’ve attended where members of the public were invited to voice their views about some complicated and controversial planning proposal and a staffer compressed those views into a few words on the chart’s blank paper. Those random and perfunctory notes would (sometimes) re-appear in some official record of the meeting.

What did not appear was a record of any substantial exchange over the issues. That’s because no such exchange occurred. Nor could it have occurred, given the meeting’s format. Indeed, I’ve come to think that precluding such an exchange is the point of that format.

So, too, at last Tuesday evening’s open house. After the 80 or so people who showed up had dutifully seated themselves in the circled chairs, Planning Director John Rahaim made some introductory remarks. He assured us that, “as my good friend and colleague John Elberling [TODCO Executive Director] reminds me, this plan is not about extending Downtown.” (Elberling was in the room.)

Rahaim went on tacitly to plug the removal of Prop. M’s cap on office development in the city. He claimed that “less than 10% of the city is zoned for offices. We are running out of space.”

“We,” I presume, refers to the developers and their buddies in City Hall and the Planning Department who equate endless office development with prosperity (and, not incidentally, the permit fees that fund planners’ jobs).

But what, I wondered, did the 10% reference? It couldn’t possibly be the amount of office square footage in the city. It had to be the square footage of on-the-ground property—the “footprint” of all the offices in San Francisco. An ambiguous, not to say disingenuous, formulation that, I imagine, we’ll be  encountering a lot more, as the anti-office-cap campaign gears up.

Then we got our marching orders from the planner who’s overseeing the Central SoMa Plan, Steve Wertheim. Each of the circles was dedicated to a different topic: affordable housing, open space, transportation/streets, and PDR/arts/nonprofits. We would be allowed only 20 or so minutes in each circle, after which we had to get up and move to another station. Each circle had a planner moderator who would give a three-minute overview of the topic at hand and another planner who took notes on the flip chart.

There were no signs indicating which circle dealt with which topic. I’d initially taken a seat in Transportation. I stayed there long enough to hear the presiding planner say that he “view[s] cars as a legacy system that needs to be supported”—a statement that had me envisioning an historic preservation program for private automobiles. Perhaps I could get my 2002 Subaru declared a “structure of merit.”

My regular beat at 48 hills is PDR. As it happened, the Transportation circle was next to the PDR circle. When I overheard a man in the latter group talking about the Flower Mart and saying that something—a gas?—“kills flowers,” I couldn’t resist moving over to the PDR station.

The speaker was Bob Otsuka, the general manager of the California Flower Mart. CFM is one of the two businesses that each own a different part of the wholesale flower mart site. Kilroy has already struck a deal with the other business, the San Francisco Flower Growers Association—a deal that, however, is the subject of a lawsuit by one of the SFFG stockholders, which may explain why nobody from that organization showed up or at least spoke up at the open house.

CFM is still negotiating with Kilroy. Apparently one of the sticking points has to do with the location of parking for the office high-rise and cut flowers’ sensitivity to the gas called ethylene.

Ethylene, I’ve learned, is a colorless, odorless plant hormone that exists in nature. It’s also a byproduct of industrial production, including combustion. Ethylene hastens ripening, aging and eventually spoilage—thus its nicknames, the “death” or “ripening” hormone. The greatest source of ethylene in nature is plants and plant products. It’s ethylene that makes a tomato placed in a paper bag ripen faster. The produce industry uses ethylene to speed the ripening of bananas that are picked green.

 

But ethylene does not mix well with cut flowers. It makes their leaves turn yellow; their buds, petals, and leaves fall off; and their colors fade. Ultimately, it leads to their “premature” death.

The problem for the “modernized” Flower Mart that Kilroy has promised to build is that auto exhaust is a major source of ethylene, and the plans for the office tower at 575 Sixth Street reportedly call for a big underground parking garage.

Otsuka and his colleagues are worried that the ethylene generated by all those cars will waft up to the Flower Mart and damage if not destroy the cut flowers. “We’d prefer three stories of parking above the Mart,” he said. No way that’s going to happen. So what does that mean for the future of the Mart, its vendors and their customers? The question was never answered.

For the rest of the event, I stayed in the PDR circle, where discussion was moderated by Wertheim himself. “The goal of the plan,” he told one group of participants, “is to keep PDR in the area.” If we’re talking about the draft plan that’s posted on the planning department’s website, that’s simply untrue.

Echoing the draft document, the planners’ own handout says that of the approximately 5,6000 PDR jobs in the Central SoMa Plan area,1,800 are at risk of displacement by the proposed upzoning, which will remove the protections provided by current zoning. That number, Wertheim said, is “just a smidgen”—3%—of the 60,000 PDR jobs in San Francisco. But so what?

The best moment of the evening occurred when someone suggested that city planners be governed by the same sort of rules against perjury as lawyers. At that moment, veteran land use attorney and community activist Sue Hestor happened to be in the PDR circle, and she heartily endorsed that idea, noting that an attorney who committed perjury could lose his or her license.

Nobody observed that, unfortunately, city planners don’t have licenses, only license.

99 COMMENTS

  1. ok I give up. You’re pretty much a stereotype at this point. Not much of what you are saying makes sense, but I suspect you know that. Not much difference between you and the average tea partier. Are you also a climate change denier?

  2. I didn’t say the exact number of people leave as arrive. I said that enough people leave or move or die that each newcomer does not need a new housing unit built for them. Yes, there is a housing crisis in San Francisco, and it’s caused by real estate speculation driving up rents and displacing long-time residents. There is no shortage of market-rate towers.

  3. So just so we are clear here: You are saying there is no housing crisis in SF?
    SF has not produced enough housing for the people who live here already – much less the people who continue to migrate in.
    So you’re saying that as many people leave San Francisco as who migrate into it? Yet somehow we have all time high population numbers and jobs?
    On what planet does this make any sense? Can you site any article that talks about 75k people leaving SF?

  4. Why not? You do.
    Apparently you can’t read OR count.
    75,000 new people do not need 75,000 new units.
    There is constant churning in any big City, and almost as many people move out as move in.
    I’m not saying new housing should not be built. I’m saying it should be built for those who need it most, not those who can most afford it.

  5. When does a giant chain become a “small locally owned business”? When Joseph Thomas needs data to make his point!
    If the businesses are viable, then they will move somewhere else. One story buildings built immediately over subway service in SF are not best use of the land.”. The building boom has nothing to do with supply and demand”
    “Over the last decade, 75,000 people have moved to San Francisco, but only 17,000 new housing units have been built”
    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/02/the-housing-market-with-nowhere-to-go-but-up/?_r=0

    Lets all just make up our stats to prove our point!

  6. First of all, it is YOU Tanya/Sam who are the liar. Mission Hunan (5-stars on Yelp), The City Club, and Hwa Lei Market certainly qualify as small businesses. Burger King and Walgreens are somewhat problematic, but they function in the community like small businesses, in that they are accessible to the existing community. But I’m going to count them anyway, along with the vacant storefront between them and say that six small businesses will be displaced by the Maxxim development. That’s a few more than “none.” Who’s Glen Beck now?

    No, I don’t get to decide who lives here, but I do get to express an opinion based on facts, rather than parrot the failed “growth and development” mantra that is leading us straight into the next burst real-speculation bubble. The same idiots who brought the crash of 2007-8 are doing it again, this time with our tax dollars and the complicity of our public guardians. The building boom has nothing to do with supply and demand; it is a land grab, pure and simple.

    Just like the one that started on that Thanksgiving, back in the day.

  7. Tanya, Joseph has set himself up as the expert in deciding who should live in SF and who should not.

    Luckily for the rest of us, he has absolutely no power to enforce his will on others, who see the value in turnover and the vitality that comes with new people moving here.

    Truth is he doesn’t have the means to be here, knows it, but thinks he is entitled anyway.

    IOW, dinosaur.

  8. Can someone please point out the slight difficulty in Mr Thomas’ argument that certain people deserve to be here more than others? i didn’t realize that Glen Beck was interested in SF politics…

  9. And my point is that long-time residents, and especially natives, should have priority over newcomers, and that money is not an indicator of “good.” Your personal success is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. What’s best for you is not necessarily what’s best for the City, or for the planet.

  10. My point was simply to assert that having a prejudice in favor of those who are already here isn’t an official city policy, and nor is it desirable that it should be.

    It is in the interests of this city that less productive and valuable residents be gradually replaced by more productive and valuable residents.

    And “value” is typically estimated in economic terms because the rest is subjective.

    A certain amount of displacement is good for the city.

  11. Doesn’t matter what I do. What matters is that I pay my own way and don’t demand a handout, subsidy or special treatment from others. Nor do I demand that I have a right to live here just because I might like to.

  12. All you need to know is that I create prosperity by providing services that people are willing to pay a lot for.

    I’m not a student, artist, activist, public sector worker, unemployed or otherwise sucking at the public teat and demanding subsidies. I draw no welfare and probably pay more in tax than you “earn” in a year.

    The city needs me a lot more than it needs you, which explains the current city policies. The city wants can-do winners and not can-whine do-nothing’ers.

    So again, why should we care if you are displaced?

  13. Oooo, troll attacks! Assume makes an ASS out of, well, you.

    And what do you do to earn your taxes, Sam?”
    Rob widows and orphans as an investment banker,insurance swindler, or war profiteer?
    Displace people through real estate speculation? Work for another redundant tech business?
    Are you a part of the White welfare system called government service? Do you work for one of the 6000+ NGO’s in the City? Or are you simply a smarmy lawyer? Your “arguments” sure sound like it.

    Not assuming, just asking……

  14. Joseph, my wife and I pay significant amounts of taxes that go to subsidize people like you who apparently cannot support themselves here.

    That is the difference between us. You cannot live here without people like me, but I can easily live here without people like you.

    I give; you take.

  15. Most “newcomers” only bring the notion that San Francisco should change to benefit them. Since you and your minions have hijacked this forum, why don’t you tell us what YOU contribute to the City besides hot air?

  16. Joseph, does it ever occur to you that incumbency doesn’t trump everything else, as you suggest?

    A inflexinle, sclerotic city with no mobility and fluidity isn’t in the long-term interests of the city. SF has always thrived on newcomers and, no doubt each time, the folks already nere bitched about it. But so what.

    I welcome these new people with their skills and ambition. In fact I think they are far higher-value residents than those who contribute little economically, suck up services, and demand that their “needs” be met.

    What is the value to the city if you stay? Why would it matters if you left? What’s your value-add?

  17. People who were born and raised here, and people who have been here at least long enough to know the City”doesn’t need or want more people to move here (uh, there’s no room) should have priority when it comes to housing, transportation, and other City planning. Some newcomers “wants” should never trump a long-time residents “needs.” Seriously, if you want to live in a tower, move to where they are; don’t bring them with you.

  18. Absolutely ridiculous, and a perfect example of the “I’ve got mine, screw you if you dont get yours SF NIMBY attitude.”
    How unfortunate that these attitudes werent around when you came on board Joseph Thomas.
    You’re like an ostrich with its head in the sand, pretending that people will stop moving here.

  19. Very few jobs require the actual physical presence of the employee, and this number will decline in the future. Any new housing should be built for the people who already live here who are homeless, or living in “unsubstantiated housing.” I could care less about what some ouslanders want, or what the real estate industry thinks the City needs. Building housing based on some planners optimistic projections is foolish to begin with. The housing crisis is caused by speculation and greed, not human need.

  20. That article has been widely debunked all over the internet. Any article that espouses the premise that supply and demand is just not special enough for San Francisco should be completely dismissed. the ONLY actual solution to the housing problem in SF is adding more supply – whether by for profit developers or non profit developers. end of story.

  21. Reply to Tanya’s question about “densification” and housing: See Dyan Ruiz and Joseph Smooke’s piece in Truth-out on why developers are not going to solve SF’s housing crisis.

  22. Well, what do you expect? It’s a tiny crowded city. You want Yellowstone Park slotted into SOMA, along with Grand Faithful? How about Yosemite Valley?

    Seems to me you’re a country gild who made a wrong turn somewhere.

  23. Please do tell me what small locally owned businesses will be displaced by this development?
    Lies do not count.

  24. The SF housing crisis has been discussed in media all over the world. Something like 40k people came here in the last 8 years and less than 10k units have been built. Please explain to me how you will solve this crisis with LESS density?
    And before you mention the surrounding cities, more jobs commute into SF than commute out of it – so the burbs have been shoring up SF’s pathetic amount of housing for years.

  25. Who cares what YOU want?

    We are talking about what the “community” NEEDS: affordable housing, open space, and less density, not more. Only the real estate sharpies and their thralls at City Hall benefit from more people and traffic in San Francisco. And I agree with you; there are far too many dogs in the parks.

  26. Some facts: SF ranks after Boston in population density centers ~5th or 6th in the nation and 7th in metro areas after Chicagoland.

    “The open space will of course be located on the rooftops and balconies but only accessible by tenants and their guests.

    All others will enjoy the open space in the cold northerly aspect shadow and wind tunnel of the towers.”

  27. Hovel, I am only Sam here, Tanya, Bob and those other names are not me. Do you really think that only one person wants to see growth and development? Ed Lee was elected running on that platform, so you know that isn’t true.

  28. San Francisco is the downtown of the Bay Area so of course it will have much higher densities and taller buildings. Nobody credible in Planning thinks otherwise.

    Sure we can have a few pocket parks here or there, and in fact many new towers have a public space component. But it is naive to give over large areas of SOMA to dogs, rats and the homeless, which is most of what I see in city parks anyway.

    As a taxpayer I want to see high-value use of downtown, and not under-use which actually costs the city money.

  29. Small locally owned Walgreens chain and Burger King? Do clouds and fog not also displace sun falling on the school? Why don’t you just admit that you would prefer to see this town preserved in Amber. Never changing

  30. Sophistry? Did you look that up?

    Displacement occurs because when developments like this are built, opportunistic landlords take the opportunity to raise rents as their property value rises, DISPLACING existing tenants. This particular development does not actually tear down any existing housing, but it does DISPLACE several small neighborhood businesses, as well as DISPLACING sunlight that would usually fall on the adjacent elementary schoolyard.

    That’s three distinct types of displacement, Mr. Smarty-Pants.

  31. “It’s not “new housing” if it displaces people who are already there;”

    The 16th and Mission development doesn’t involve the eviction of a single resident. Stop the sophistry.

  32. In the words of Oakland’s own Marshawn Lynch: “It’s all about that action, Boss.” That action being unfettered, rampant speculation on the part of developers, and complicity on the part of our public officials. There is no “Tech Boom,” it’s a real-estate boom; the ghost of the Redevelopment Agency doing what they do. Most of the housing, office, and retail being built and planned in the City is not a response to “need,” but rather to greed.

  33. Joseph,

    Part of what the Planning Department and local government officials told us is that if we allowed higher density on some of the parcels, then we’d have land left over to build parks, community meeting spaces, non-profit housing, wildlife habitats, ball fields and a host of other public amenities. Of course once they got their higher zoning density through, ALL of the parcels became fair game for wall-to-wall high rises.

    If the surrounding Bay Area cities would build to just 50% of SF’s zoning densities, SF would have plenty of parcels for more parks, affordable housing sites and community spaces. Local rents would be lower and eviction threats would diminish. But local SF government has always been about placating the uber-wealthy who control the land and who want to maximize profits from exploiting said land, the residents and workers be damned.

  34. Patently ridiculous. You’re asking for land to grow vegetables among the most expensive and densely utilized land west of Chicago. There will be a huge park on top of the transbay terminal as well as additional parks planned as part of the transbay developments. Of course your suggestion Is that anyone who feels differently than you should get out of town.
    Urban hillbilly.

  35. Tanya (bob, Sam, Anon, Guest and all the other names you use),

    People want and need local parks they can WALK to that have swing sets for their kids, gardens to grow some vegetables, benches to read a book and grass where they can throw a frisbee WITHOUT having to drive or take a 30 minute MUNI ride to get there. Neighborhood parks play a vital role in a community and much of the SOMA and surrounding areas are devoid of green space.

    When Planning started the upzoning process to the area a couple of decades ago they promised the community numerous large and effective parks where the tens of thousands of new residents and office workers would have the opportunity to relax, play and rejuvenate. Of course the park space got pushed off to the end of the upzoning and development process so the land cost is now 20 times higher than if they had secured the park land when the process started years ago. As usual, SF government only cares about maximizing the profits of the land speculators (many of whom are out-of-towners) and the residents and workers are mere afterthoughts.

    The other 99 cities in the Bay Area have plenty of low density land that can be upzoned for office towers and residential high-rises. San Francisco has more than their share of these types of buildings. Some of the last remaining undeveloped parcels in the SOMA area need to be acquired for large and welcoming community parks. If you prefer more high-rises and fewer community parks, then you should move to Hong Kong, Singapore or Manhattan where you’ll feel much more at home.

  36. And if there weren’t any parks in SF, the numbers would be way way down. Whats your point?
    GG park and Mclaren park both exist. The NIMBY POV in SF really involves a strange pair of glasses.

  37. Zelda,

    I’m glad your pointed out the error of ‘flip-chart consensus’. It bothered me at Market-Octavia for a few reasons; one I now see as being controlled in outcome. As for the ‘neighbors’, I sensed a degree of ‘the usual suspects’, as all the conclusions (and discussion) were one dimensional and predictable.

    But that was from the ‘neighbors’. City Planning had its own ideas. And, after all, that was 10+ yrs ago. Many of those ‘neighbors’ aren’t neighbors any more. So we get/got ‘imput’ that is, in many ways, no longer valid. And for projects that are another 10+ yrs away.

    BTW, while i was more or less a big aupporter a decade ago, after seeing the outcome with traffic clogging the whole Octavia area, I think I would have preferred keeping the Oak/Fell freeway – and a little peace & quiet everywhere else.

    My $0.02

  38. Sam – many of your listed parks aren’t in the Plan area – from 2nd to 6th, Mkt to Twonsend. Not exactly sure how the area was delineated, but parks are a benefit that provides a public good.

    That said, I tend to stay away from them, personally. However, its nice to know there’s a place where one can just sit and ponder. (the trouble is keeping them so so they aren’t overwhelmed by a noxious few).

    I was against the whole “Patricia’s Green” (Hayes Valley Green). But it has (so far) worked out fairly well. The thing is, it can always revert to ‘park’-ing if Plan A fails, eh?

    As to our % of parks, if it weren’t for GGP and McClaren, those numbers would be way down. Many areas of town are woefully under-greened – SOMA being one.

    Connecting with the earth is something pretty primal. Glad I have my share of a 4×30′ plot at home.

  39. True, Bob, and the irony is that there is lots of open space in and around SOMA. Examples:

    Yerba Buena Park
    South Park
    South Beach Park
    The entire waterfront from the Ferry Building to the BallPark
    Mission Bay Park
    Mission Creek Garden
    Second Street Plaza
    Community Garden @ Lapu Lapu St.
    Victoria Malano Draves Park
    Howard Langton Communty Garden
    China Basin Park

  40. Personally it’s nuts to me that you advocate removing existing homes and businesses for more parks. Yes we need parks but we actually need homes more. SF is in already in the top three cities in the country for total park acres per land area. NYC, DC, SF
    But hey as you said, you care about being outside and grilling your steak. Who cares if other people don’t have housing.

  41. Let see, did I really say…”……and then complain about the lack of wide open spaces with herds of bison grazing.”…”Trying to change SF into a rural idyll with riparian and sylvan….”.

    Both of you are hopeless.

    I guess your idea of living an a city or “urbanized places” as you put it Sam, is one void of parks.

    Well then please do stay in your box and smell the carpet fumes there buddy. I will stand in my park gazing up at your skyboxes while I stand by my Bar-B-Q next to my park bench grilling my stake.

    You guys are weird……something tells me both of you need to get outside of your boxes and away from your LCD screens. Your off the charts to think that advocating for an urban park somehow translates into turning San Francisco into Wyoming.

  42. I am curious why you would choose to live in one of the two most densely populated and urbanized places in the nation, and then complain about the lack of wide open spaces with herds of bison grazing. Hey, we don’t have a lot of pampas, savannah, forest and mountain ranges here either. I blame tech.

    I should move to Wyoming and complain about a lack of urban infrastructure and sophistication. Or to Alaska and whine that it’s too cold and hilly.

    Seems to me you’re just living in the wrong place. Trying to change SF into a rural idyll with riparian and sylvan aspects is much harder than simply moving somewhere remote, and building yourself a log cabin, growing a beard and spending all day skinning squirrels.

  43. So your expectation is that during a housing and office shortage, we should be demolishing buildings to clear the way for open space?
    People dont have houses to live in but your biggest concern is new parks?
    Let them eat open space?

  44. Now back to the plan….

    Considering the “public” meeting was held in enemy territory……SPUR’s offices…our local lobbyist for developers, the outcome was predictable.

    Sorry I could not be in attendance to toss my thought bombs into the crowd of political hacks and lap dog consultants…..oh well…my bad.

    So my question about all this office up zoning is, WHERE THE HELL ARE THE NEW OPEN SPACE PARCELS IN THIS PLAN? This new “Central SoMa plan is like the board game ” where’s Waldo” can anyone point to any new parks of any consequence? No…I didn’t think so…..

    Typical plan led by the hacks at SPUR……let the city up zone, build offices and the OPEN SPACE WILL FOLLOW.

  45. And here we see another example of classic San Francisco hyperbole/spoiled child tantruming..
    If you allow one highrise, then you’ll pave over every square inch of SF with them. If you allow one chain store, every store that exists will turn into a chain.. Make one comment about the psychology of people who complain at public meetings and “Y” is going to take his toys and stomp on home – no more meetings! Way to keep the discourse elevated!

  46. As I said, if community opinion doesn’t matter, cancel all neighborhood meetings. Keep the public out of BOS meetings. Do everything behind closed doors.

    If it does matter, then let it matter.

  47. But Y, it doesn’t matter if the vote at the public meeting was 50-2 because, as was stated, those who approve of the project generally do not feel so strongly, so aren’t there.

    My sense of what happens is that the 80% silent majority are happy and do not show up, but the NIMBY/anti/leftie crowd always show up. (In fact you start to recognize the same faces every time after a while). That crowd votes 50-2 against but so what? They weren’t representative.

    And I have never been asked to vote on whether a public hearing should decide policy instead of experts and those appointed. We wouldn’t even need planners if every new building was only subject to an open-outcry meeting of the self-selected.

    The system we have is that we elect people to make these decisions and, while you can say your piece, it isn’t a mob decision. It’s theirs and, if you don’t like what happens, then elect a different Mayor.

  48. Tanya, there is that. However, I’ve also been to community meetings on SF where two sides of the community were represented amply who felt strongly about an issue (permit parking), and the City acted as a neutral mediator. OTOH, in the planning meetings I’m talking about there would be anywhere between zero and two locals who voiced approval of the plan, to 50+ critical of it.

  49. There is a very well known and studied phenomenon wherein people will show up to complain about something or say something negative, yet people who approve or are happy about something will do nothing. San Francisco is a perfect example of this, as people will show up in droves to make sure something doesnt happen, but often very few people show up to speak positively about a potential change: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/your-money/why-people-remember-negative-events-more-than-positive-ones.html?pagewanted=all

  50. If all political participation was supposed to occur at elections, there wouldn’t be any public hearings for anything. But there are, by law, and people come to them, and often disagree with the policies of elected officials and their appointees. What’s discussed here is that the meetings are organized to follow the letter of the law but subvert its intention.

    Who is “gaming the system” or “packing the meetings”? I haven’t gone to meetings because people paid me to go or bussed me there. I read about them and didn’t like what I saw, so I came and said my piece, or tried to.

  51. You elect the mayor and the BOS who represent the interests of the people. With the BOS its not unusual that the most parochial of interests are represented as our district representation model frequently allows people elected with less than 10k votes.
    I guess its a basic tenet that people here dont understand… We are not a direct democracy, as much as the obstruction fetishists wish we were.

  52. I don’t remember electing city planning staff (hired bureaucrats) or planning commissioners (appointed by mayor and president of board of supervisors), neither of which last long if they dare to stand up to development interests.

    Orchestrated, tightly controlled “public” meetings with flip charts, power point presentations, etc. give the impression of public input while the real estate/developer industries determine their money making policies privately with their public sector enablers, residents (especially those without property) be damned.

  53. Y, but the city and planning folks aren’t right-wing or left-wing. They are the folks whom WE elected to make decisions. If they turn out to be a little too the right then that is because we the people approved of that.

    You achieve change and power through electoral success, and not be gaming the system by packing meetings with extremists and activists.

    The bias you allege would have been a very different bias if Avalos were mayor, but the people didn’t want an anti-growth mayor. They wanted a pro-growth mayor, so why complain when we then get growth? We voted for growth.

  54. Bleeper, don’t for get the “Low-Rider Collective” – always my first call for in-depth political insight.

    I’m surprised not to see a one-legged lesbian mime troupe in that list. That would have clinched it for me.

  55. San Francisco urban heirloom mushroom collective, San Francisco thimble makers association, San Francisco theremin players, San Franciscans for the advancement of alchemy: Is there any place in the world more willing to place itself into the most minority of minority self identification lists? Are we all citizens of a medium sized city ? Or are we a collection of ten thousand little groups who all want something different?

  56. David: Yes, I’ve read Nader’s book, and I share his hope for new coalitions that transcend and reconfigure what conventional wisdom calls the left and the right. I was disappointed, however, to see very little about local politics.

  57. Alternatively, perhaps it points to you all spending waaaay too much time thinking about a single commenter on a blog.

  58. A few dozen? Apparently you can’t count.

    There are HUNDREDS of people in this protest video.
    And these are the SCORES of organizations that oppose the development:

    Abalone Alliance Clearinghouse • Alliance for a Better District Six • ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment) • Barrios Unidos•California Coaltion for Women Prisoners • Calle 24 Arts Consortium (Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, BRAVA! for Women in the Arts, Precita Eyes Muralists, Accion Latina, and Galeria de la Raza) • CARECEN • Calle 24 Latino Cultural District • Calle 24 Merchants (La Victoria, L’s Cafe, El Nuevo Fruitlandia, Sunrise Cafe, Praxis, Explorist International, Mission Skates, Modern Times, Alley Cat Books, Luara’s Beauty Salon, Dju Jewelry, Mixcoatl, Linda Wilson Photo Archivist, El Tecolote, Laura Campos Muralist, Linda Beenau, Wonderdog Rescue, Dog Earred Books) • Carnaval Mural Restoration Committee • Casa Sanchez • Causa Justa :: Just Cause • Center for Political Education • The Chocolate Project • Encatada Gallery • Cesar Chavez Parade and Festival Committee • Central City Democrats • CODEPINK SF • Chile Lindo • Clarion Alley Mural Project • Dolores Street Community Services • District Eight Democrats • ClubEviction Free San Francisco • Eviction Mapping Project • Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club • Global Exchange • Historic Liberty Hill Street Neighbors • HOMEY (Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth) • Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco • Instituto Familiar de La Raza • Instituto Laboral de la Raza • Idriss Stelley Foundation • Ingelsia Catolica Angelica Latino American • International Indian Treaty Council SF Office • Jade Lotus Midwifery • Jon Gollinger (No Wall on the Waterfront) • Latin Business Network and Community • Latin Zone Productions • LMNOP Neighborhood Association • Madres Unidas por California • MEDA (Mission Economic Development Agency) • Mission Girls•Mission Films • Mission Neighborhood Centers • Mission Neighborhood Resource Center • Mission Small Business Association • Nine Dream • Our Mission NO Eviction • PODER • Precita Center • Prisoners with Children • Progressive Women Rising • Puerto Alegre • Redstone Labor Temple Association • Ruckus Society • San Francisco Latino Democratic Club • San Francisco Food Not Bombs • San Francisco Lowrider Council • San Francisco Print Collective • SEIU Local 1021 • Shaping San Francisco • senseofplace LAB•Station 40 • Susana y su Orquesta Adelante • Teatro Homies • Techies Against Displacement • Tenant Association Coalition • United Educators of San Francisco • Urban Habitat • Urban Music Presents • Valencia Corridor Merchants Association • Victory Outreach • Western Regional Advocacy Project

    I’m not a big fan of NGO’s; but I have to admit this rare show of solidarity warms the coggles of my heart, and hopefully is effective; for a change.

  59. Zelda:

    I think there is a huge potential for politically engaged citizens of both the left and right to form grassroots coalitions.

    I know for a fact that lots of East Bay Tea Party folk (plenty of friends in that category) are fighting Plan Bay Area tooth and nail. But your typical SF Progressive breaks out in hives at the thought of the Tea Party. Its so much more satisfying to defame and despise the TPs than to ask, can we be strange bedfellows?

    The tiny, powerless Republican Party has in some Bay Area counties– including SF County– come out with resolutions against Plan Bay Area. But the bureaucrat overlords like the SF Planning Dept. seem to all be on the same PowerPoint with regard to defusing all grassroots opposition and turning citizen attendance into “outreach” events that support their foregone conclusions.

    Ralph Nader’s new book “Unstoppable” is a cry in the wilderness for left/right coalitions around consensus issues. And there are many. Govt. spying. Foreign wars. Minimum wage. Etc. These definitely cross the left/right divide.

    Sadly, most progressives– including Redmond– are too myopic to see the potential. Redmond barely noticed that on the AirBnB issue the LANDLORDS were in sync with the TENANTS RIGHTS people and LABOR. A huge missed opportunity.

  60. My experience is that almost all the people who show up to such meetings (in SF) are local people affected by these changes, who have spent a lot of time doing their homework.

    I don’t know (and nor do you) why that is so, but I will speculate. On development issues in SF, the Right (“moderates”) is comfortable with whatever developers-Planning-City Hall are dishing out; the Left is not. The Right is already represented in these meetings, poerfully, by the very people organizing them.

    If the Right really was worried about community comments having an impact, they would hire cheerleaders, as they do for BOS meetings. I look forward to the day they feel compelled to do so at community planning meetings.

  61. Joseph, planning and the provision of housing is a city-wide function. The fact that a few dozen “usual suspect” NIMBY activists oppose this project is as unsurprising as it is immaterial.

  62. Zelda, my comments were restricted to the city, rather than regional or state meetings, about which I know little. And from the public city meetings, and public comments at city hall, that I have seen those who provide feedback seem well to the left of the majority who don’t show up.

    Most activists and advocates in SF are from the left and well to the left of the majority. That is why I take their attempts to skew policies as marginal and, indeed, undemocratic in many ways.

    If the voters in general were like those who show up at city hall, then Avalos would be in room 200 and Prop G would have won.

    Splitting large meetings up into smaller groups allows different people to focus on different areas, and reduces the “mob rule” that we sometimes see in large unstructured meetings. It’s both more civilized and more effective, but bad news for those who seek to intimidate our leaders via a noisey self-selected rabble – we’ve all seen how the tenants lobby try and pack public meetings. By your own admission, you tried to hijack a MTC meeting. I don’t think that is cool.

  63. You think “politically engaged” is code for people on the left?

    You haven’t kept up on the many news stories about who’s showing up these days at regional planning meetings in the Bay Area and, in fact, elsewhere in the country. It’s certainly not just leftists (an increasingly ambiguous category in any case).

    In Atlanta last summer a coalition calling itself the Green Tea Party and composed of the Sierra Club, the NAACP and the Tea Party defeated a referendum on a $7.2 billion transit tax. Google it.

    As for meetings during the day, don’t get me started.

    But those schedules are set by officials, not citizens of any political stripe.

  64. You unwittingly revealed the real problem here. The kind of people who show up at these meetings are not a random representative cross-section of the people, but rather those who are “politically engaged”.

    What that really means is that those who show up for these things are well to the left of the moderate majority. Moreover those without jobs and families find it easier to attend a multi-hour meeting, some of which are even held during the working day. Again, that skews the input.

    So personally I am far from convinced that such meetings should be more than a marginal influence over our policy makers. We elect them for a reason – let them do their jobs even if the usual suspects try and intimidate them.

  65. In the interests of balance, the flaws of such an idea should also be detailed:

    1) It’s more work for Tim. He wants to do investigation and journalism – not spend a lot of time doing systems administration.You’e asking him to maintain a count of how many times individuals post and then, presumably, delete those over a certain quota. That’s time-consuming even if the comment software can help him.

    2) And without registration there is no real way to know who is who. All his system has is an email address. And that is another problem – it would be easy to comment using multiple email addresses and get around the limit. While if you are advocating registration then that is more system administration work for this one-man operation.

    3) A daily or per-thread quota makes no allowance for the length of the thread. Three posts on a ten post thread might be a lot, but nothing on a three hundred post thread.

    I suspect that if Tim gets sick of the comments section (more likely because of a lack of civility than because the opinions expressed are diverse, probing and critical) then he would just switch off comments and/or have them pushed out to social media. But then he would lose the sense of community here, and much of the debate.

    Finally, Mission Local implemented a quota system a few months back and their comments section has near died as a result. Traffic is way down, just as happened when SFBG stopped comments, and just when ML is trying to become financially independant.

  66. >MTC staff had prepared an agenda that had us going to “small tables” and sharing our views with a staffer–with a very short period at the end of the meeting for public comment at the mike. That’s another way of diluting the public’s authority: only staff get to speak to everyone in the room at once.<

    I've been to a few too many community meetings with the same format and find it quite disempowering, except for the organizers or honchos.

  67. Thanks, Y. I agree about fighting an un-democratic format from the get-go. Indeed, on October 8, I joined other members of the public in a spontaneous disruption of a meeting at the headquarters of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission about the draft Public Participation Plan for the upcoming Plan Bay Area 2017.

    MTC staff had prepared an agenda that had us going to “small tables” and sharing our views with a staffer–with a very short period at the end of the meeting for public comment at the mike. That’s another way of diluting the public’s authority: only staff get to speak to everyone in the room at once.

    A half dozen or so attendees went to the mike at the beginning and, one by one, and gave our (critical) views of how public participation had been handled in PBA 2013 and how it was being handled that evening. They listened to us, begrudgingly. But as you write, they ignored what we said.

    Just one example: the wretched timing. They’d scheduled the workshop in the month before a general election, a time when politically engaged citizens are working on campaigns. Then they’d scheduled the 45-day public comment period on their plan to start on November 7. When I spoke, I pointed out that this was effectively a 14-day comment period, because after about November 21, people’s attention would be turning to the holidays, not regional planning (if it ever did). Please start the comment period at the beginning of the New Year. Predictably, my plea fell on deaf ears. And this workshop was supposed to be about seeking “robust” community engagement.

  68. Zelda, this is spot-on. The only flip-chart community meetings I’ve attended were similar finger-paint make-busy to pacify the neighborhood activist kiddies. They help with later PR, where you can say, “this was done after many meetings with the community.” As you say, if no suggestions are recorded, no one can say if 1% or 99% of anyone liked or dislike the idea.

    I wasn’t there, but as I understand the Eastern Neighborhood Plan went along similar lines, i.e. you can have your say, but we will ignore you. If there are any more such meetings, you should fight the format right from the beginning. At least have the planners sweat a little.

  69. I vote for the website adopting a policy “recommending” a three comment a day limit. This would reduce 50% of the current posts, most of which are from a few obsessive, repetitive posters. Reducing the number of posts from the obsessive commenters lets some fresh air enter the comment section. This would provide a more inviting environment and new posters with different perspectives might be encouraged to join the conversations.

    The comments mess is the same as over at the retired SFBG. Tim doesn’t read comments so he doesn’t know, or maybe care, about the back and forth garbage that follows virtually every one of his articles. And Marke has been working on a new commenting protocol since August 2013, so we may have to a wait a bit longer for that upgrade. A voluntary limit of three comments a day encourages the obsessives to pick their battles wisely. And since most of us skip over long posts anyway, their messages are diluted if they try to cram a bunch of rebuttal points into long posts.

  70. The fact that we all wonder when “Sam” is going to start to comment bomb this blog posting speaks to the fact that he is a menace to this site.

  71. “The best moment of the evening occurred when someone suggested that city planners be governed by the same sort of rules against perjury as lawyers.”

    Maybe we can extend this to the BOS and the City Attorney. They should be held accountable (ideally, financially accountable) for approving unconstitutional measures (that are always over-turned by a higher court).

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