Plus: Uber’s hypocrisy, the school assignment system — and George Soros on capitalism

Arts space will make way for condos under a proposal now coming before the Planning Commission
Arts space will make way for condos under a proposal now coming before the Planning Commission

JUNE 15, 2015 – A plan that would wipe out five buildings and destroy the community-service, industrial, and arts operations that occupy them, is coming before the Planning Commission, where it will find significant opposition

The plan to build 274 luxury housing units in the heart of what is now a cultural center at Bryant and 18th comes up at the Planning Commission Thursday/18, but staff has asked for a continuation to July 2.

Staff has also recommended that the project be approved, with conditions – which typically means the developer will accept a few minor changes, but the main elements of the project will move forward.

It’s more high-end housing moving into what used to be light-industrial space, and its impacts will spread across that part of town, where there are still a few auto-repair places and other non-gentrified uses.

Again: The vote probably won’t take place this week. But opponents are keeping an eye on it.

 

I followed the debate over the (minor) changes in the San Francisco school assignment policy, and I read the piece from C.W. Nevius, who has been pushing for “neighborhood schools” for a long time.

Let me add a little clarity.

There is no simple way to assign students to public schools in San Francisco. There are so many factors: Many parents want a choice in where they send their kids, particularly since there are programs like language immersion that are very popular, but not available in every part of town. Not all schools are equal – some are considered (with some truth) to be better than others, and everyone wants his or her kids to go to the best place possible.

Nevius quotes someone who wants her kid to walk across the street to a good public school, Aptos, where my son went to middle school. But in some parts of town, the school across the street wouldn’t be her first choice.

Best world, all public schools in San Francisco would have the resources to be at the same level of excellence. Best world, the very rich would pay taxes, and Prop. 13 would be repealed, and that might be possible.

If we live in the real world, inequalities exist.

Yes, we’re not doing a great job at fixing the racial disparities at the public schools.

But there’s another factor that nobody’s talking about, and it’s called economic class.

You let everyone go to his or her neighborhood school, or you give people who live near a school more priority, and what you get is schools segregated not just by race but by class.

Part of the reason, the hidden secret of SF education: the schools that have richer and more connected parents raise private money at a greater rate and offer way better programs.

When a significant amount of what a public school can offer now depends on how much money the parents can contribute and raise, and when San Francisco neighborhoods are increasingly segregated not just by race but by income and class, neighborhood schools are a guarantee that rich kids will get a better education than poor kids.

Perfect world? The Clarendon PTA raises $200,000 a year, and half of that goes to schools where the parents work two jobs to pay the rent and have no free time to write grant applications (and don’t have connections to wealthy donors). Real word? It’s not going to happen.

If we really want to make neighborhood schools work – and it’s a great idea – we’d have to take some radical steps. We’d have to alter the funding program – schools in wealthy neighborhoods would get less public money, and have to raise more of their own. Schools in low-income neighborhoods would get a lot more public money and be expected to raise very little.

Can you imagine the School Board voting to cut by 25 percent the funding for all of the schools in rich communities and shifting that money to low-income neighborhood schools?

Right. I can’t either.

Bottom line: There is no perfect system for allocating schools in San Francisco. No matter what you do, someone will be unhappy. Those people will go to the press and Chuck Nevius will make a fuss. Unless they are poor and live in a low-income neighborhood and get screwed, in which case nobody will pay attention.

As long as we have Prop. 13, the schools will lack money, and there will be a battle over scarce resources. We all know who tends to win those battles. In other states, where property taxes are fair, the schools are better.

So tell me when you have a proposal that’s better than the one we have, and I’ll listen. I’ve been trying to figure one out for 20 years.

(Full disclosure: Both my kids are, and always have been, in public schools. We got none of our choices in the kindergarten lottery – zero – but in the second round I found a wonderful place for our kids. I am one of those people who should be constantly complaining about the lotter, and in the end, I have been totally happy with the SF public schools.)

Like democracy, I have learned, the SF school assignment system isn’t perfect; it’s just better than all the other options.

 

I really love the Sharing Economy when it starts to show its own internal logic, which seems to be: Whatever makes me money is good, and any laws that interfere are bad.

Uber, for example, has long resisted the kinds of rules that apply to normal taxi companies. That’s because Uber says it isn’t a taxi company, it’s just a web platform that connects individuals who want rides with people who are offering them.

Okay, fine. Now the city has decided (correctly) that the last thing we need on Market Street is more cars (I would say no cars at all on Market, just bikes, buses, and cabs), so cars driving along Eighth and Third can no longer turn onto Market.

Good. Safer for everyone. And everyone knows that only an idiot would drive a private car on Market Street; it’s a nightmare.

But wait: Now Uber thinks it should have the right to do what licensed taxis do! No, we won’t get permits. No, we won’t do background checks and training. No, we won’t do what normal cabs have to do – because we aren’t cabs.

Except on Market Street, where we are cabs, suddenly.

And how are the cops supposed to know, since Uber vehicles aren’t painted like cabs and have no easily identifiable logos – and since most of them are private cars that are in service sometimes, and not in service sometimes?

Who cares? We’re billionaires. We don’t follow the same rules as the rest of you.

 

I don’t much pay attention any more to people who say The System is about to collapse; I’ve been hearing that since I was in high school, and it never seems to happen.

I am always reminded of one of my favorite Dorothy Parker poems:

Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)

Alas, hyper-capitalism, which by all reason should have eaten itself and fallen apart years ago, seems to continue unchecked. If anything, it just gets worse.

Now, though, no less a capitalist than George Soros is saying This Shit Can’t Go On. Soros is no fool, and while he is mostly talking about the Euro, his message is broader: If you force austerity on millions of people while they see a handful getting stinking rich, at some point things will fall apart.

Warning that violence on the streets was inevitable unless the problems of unemployment and debt were addressed, he warned this could lead to the erosion of civil liberties and installation of a police state.

Asked about the likelihood of riots in the US, he said: “Yes, yes, yes. It will be an excuse for cracking down and using strong arm tactics to maintain law and order which, carried to an extreme, could bring about a repressive political system, a society where individual liberty is much more constrained.”

Happy Monday.