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Saturday, September 25, 2021

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News + PoliticsIs San Francisco a 'conservative' city? That's what the Chron thinks.

Is San Francisco a ‘conservative’ city? That’s what the Chron thinks.

But is opposing the Big Business and Big Tech Agenda really 'conservative?' Plus: Free Muni --and a complex new Muni yard. That's The Agenda for May 10-18.


Heather Knight at the Chron complains that San Francisco is a “conservative” city. I’m always intrigued when I hear terms like that, because calling this city conservative misses the entire point of local politics and history.

The Big Business Agenda has led to massive displacement. Photo by Sara Bloomberg

Here’s what she says after interviewing the new head of Muni (who says SF is “more conservative than Moscow):”

And he’s right. Though he mostly stuck to discussing transit, the idea holds true on a host of major issues including housing, climate change, small business reform and addressing our drug crisis. The traditional hallmark of conservatism is embracing the status quo, and San Francisco seems nearly incapable of major change.

The issue at hand was JFK Drive, which is a bit more complex than Knight explains. But never mind. Is San Francisco really “conservative” and resistant to change?

(Certainly not by even her standards on the “drug crisis;” this is a city that seeks safe injection sites, drug courts, and a policy to treat substance abuse as a public health issue not a criminal justice issue. I don’t think they do that in Moscow.)

But her real complaint is that community activists in the city often opposed rapid changes. And to a certain extent, she’s right.

By her standards, of course, almost any environmental group, including, say, Earth First, which is typically described as a “radical environmental group,” would be considered “conservative.” Earth First has fought to protect wilderness from development. That means the group opposes rapid change. I know some of the folks who founded Earth First; they do, indeed, want to stop change – any change – in wilderness areas.

I am probably somewhere to the left of your average Democratic Socialist, and I agree with Earth First: Stop the bulldozers and chain saws. Stop “progress” if it means oil and gas leases, mining, and logging. Leave the wilderness alone.

Is that “conservative?”

If you know the history of post-War San Francisco, you know that “progress” and “change” in local economy has been driven almost entirely by a small number of powerful people, mostly white men, who sought to redesign the city for their own profit.

They destroyed light industry and blue-collar jobs to build financial-services and tech offices, killing tens of thousands of good, often unionized jobs for people who didn’t have advanced degrees.

They encouraged the gentrification of neighborhoods all over the city, destroying vulnerable communities in the name of making money for the real-estate business.

They wiped out Black and Brown communities in the name of changing the city’s population to a more “standard white Anglo-Saxon Protestant characteristics.” Yes, that is an actual quote from a 1966 SPUR planning document.

So: Communities resisted. People fought back against unchecked development. They are still doing it today.

(You know who is really resistant to change? The real-estate industry, which has bitterly fought any effort to amend the Ellis Act, and the big corporate lobbyists who fought changes to Prop. 13.)

City Hall under many, many mayors facilitated and encouraged the devastation of San Francisco and the transformation into a finance and tech hub (with the requisite displacement that make the landlords and developers and speculators rich).

Some of us lived through the Manhattanization downtown boom and the tech boom. Can you blame us for not trusting the Next Big Plan?

Tech companies love to “disrupt,” to “move fast and break things.” That’s fine if you are young and white and have plenty of money. It’s not so fine if you have a family and a non-tech job and live in a rent-controlled apartment and are going to be evicted by the “disruption.”

Some of us would like to say: Slow down. Protect existing vulnerable communities first. Save historic and environmentally sensitive areas. Use government to regulate these changes so that they don’t overwhelm what is frankly a pretty fragile city – and tax the people who get rich from them to protect the people who the late-capitalist idea of progress leaves behind.

If that makes me a conservative, Heather, I’m all in.

One of the huge issues that the city is going to have to deal with in the emerging post-COVID world is rebuilding Muni. Although Uber would love to destroy public transportation and replace it with private vehicles, the reality is that the city can’t function without a functional Muni.

Sup. Dean Preston is suggesting that, as the city moves back to a cautious post-COIVD era, we ought to try making Muni free.

Preston, along with Matt Haney, Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen, and Connie Chan, are proposing a $9.3 million appropriation for a three-month pilot project to see what would happen if we eliminated fares.

There’s plenty of data to show that the use of public-transit in a city like San Francisco is what economists call “price elastic” – you raise prices, and use goes down. When Muni costs more, some people drive, or walk, or (gasp) take Uber instead.

It’s going to be hard to get people back on the bus no matter what. But free Muni would help the lowest-income people who rely on public transit (and can’t afford a car or an Uber) and might encourage more ridership.

The issue comes before the Budget and Appropriations Committee Wednesday/12. The meeting starts at 11:30 am.

Also at that committee: Haney has called a hearing and is asking for the Budget and Legislative Analyst to

provide a budget and policy analysis of City law enforcement functions that could be performed by other City agencies and functions that do not provide public safety.

It’s a big step toward not just defunding the cops but re-imaging public safety.

The Planning Commission will hear a presentation Thursday/13 on a major plan to rebuild the Muni yard at Mariposa and Bryant. It’s the kind of thing that could go very well – or very badly.

The idea is that the bus yard is old and needs to be rebuilt to accommodate the buses of the future – which will run on batteries and possibly be a lot bigger.

Instead of seeking public bond money, which is how the city often builds new facilities of this sort, Muni is looking for a “public-private partnership.” The agency would choose a developer who would fix up the bus yard – but also construct a building as tall as 150 feet with 575 housing units and some retail and community space.

There’s no formal RFP yet, and the Planning Department documents don’t set any specific goals for how much of that housing has to be non-market or below-market-rate. All of that will be worked out later.

Remember: this is public land. The “partner” will be looking to make a profit. Which means some of the housing will have to be high-end stuff in a neighborhood that has suffered horribly from gentrification.

Here’s the fascinating line from the 33-page document full of pictures and promises:

Attract private and public sources of funding to increase the percentage of affordable units

Directly seek funds from corporations or organizations that have contributed to gentrification impacts in the Mission (i.e., large tech corporations whose employees were attracted to the Mission’s vibrant culture).

I have never seen a Planning Department document that talks about forcing tech companies to pay for the damage they have done. Maybe this is, well, progress.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. Gorn, the state has a windfall that will buy the hotels. If Breed balks that will prove she wants the homeless for her political football. Also there is Federal money. The hotels are are on the market. Breed is insane if she declines this. Oh, and your ad hominem tells me I struck a nerve.

  2. Geek: get this through your thick head: government is not going to be purchasing hotels to house homeless people. This Board would never cross Breed. They will whine about how bad Breed is, but you can’t seriously expect for Matt Fucking Haney to actually take risk to impose a budget on the Mayor with 8 votes.

    When progs think that their electeds have their back but really don’t.

  3. Here we go again. Gorn is back, attacking progressives and defending Breed’s failures. Breed has been forced to accept things she opposes. The hotel program is going strong in spite of her attempts to to end it. Biden has provided increased aid, and Newsom has offered up money from the budget’s surplus to house the homeless in hotels that can be purchased and converted and to provide other infrastructure to address homelessness. The right winger commenting on SF Chronicle are having meltdowns. They are mostly the same ones who repeatedly claimed Trump was unstoppable, deny the existence of racism (while paradoxically declaring that Democrats are “quote” the real racists). It is quite amusing to play with them.

  4. The MTA views fares as a form of “demand management,” designed to discourage transit use by a minimal bar to riding. GIven that well off people have abandoned Muni for TNCs, and that demand management keeps poorer people off of the bus, I’m wondering what demographics they expect to actually ride? Or would total demand management mean that buses ran on time because they were never stopping to pick up those pesky passengers, burning subsidy? The SFMTA is going to fight far-free Muni vigorously.

    San Francisco is quite a conservative city. Activists are domesticated into compensated advocates under the proviso that they never cross conservative corporate San Francisco. Perhaps Tumlin thinks that this is not enough, and like so many of the neoliberal tech bros with no connection to community outside of their comfort zones, wants to blow through democracy to get the desired technocratic outcomes sooner than working through the political process. Such authoritarianism does not play well. Perhaps ecologically conscious livability techno-meritocrats let their jealousy at Moscow’s lack of CEQA/NEPA get the better of them. That’s not very vibrant.

    As to the SFMTA’s acknowledgement of tech displacement, unless the language is in the contract, is in the black letter of the law, then it is bait that entices Tim’s friends to sign on, but ends with Lucy yanking the football off of the tee at the last second, leaving Lucy with the football and Charlie Brown flat on his back. We’ve seen this movie so many times before.

  5. Greed is a dominant presence in SF, more so than a lot of other places…and that goes all the way back to the beginning. That’s not necessarily conservative. But on the other tangent, JFK Drive…missed entirely is the new “public” tennis courts where the walk-on ones have been replaced by $9 per person (basically $18 to play). Walton said he was unaware of the JFK closure ahead of time. Wondering when/if anyone was told about the selling off of those courts.

  6. Laredland, you cannot be an SF native if you have not seen or believe the comments regarding MUNI from Brian T. Or, if you are an sf native, you are a rich elitist who would never set foot on MUNI or any other public transportation. Or maybe you haven’t seen these things because you are legally blind? The actions Brian described run rampant all over the city, not just on Muni.

    On second thought, you are likely a Russian bot as no person can be that dumb..

  7. “Some of us would like to say: Slow down.”

    Tim, do you realize that doing nothing, or acting slowly, is just as much of an active choice as taking prompt action? If we slow down when it comes to decarbonization and addressing climate change, it’s the exact same thing as actively choosing to pump more CO2 into the atmosphere. If we slow down when it comes to addressing the drug crisis, we’re on pace for another year of 700+ overdose deaths. If we slow down when it comes to making the city’s streets safer, dozens will die and hundreds will face life-changing injuries every year under the status quo. If we freeze the city in amber and don’t permit a single bit of new construction, home prices and rents will still continue to skyrocket and vulnerable long-time residents will still be displaced.

    If, as you say, a “small number of powerful people, mostly white men, who sought to redesign the city for their own profit” are responsible for the city’s ills, they have set their course on autopilot, and the city will continue to be designed to benefit them unless and until we speed up our actions to change the design. Slowing down means embracing the status quo, the exact status quo that’s benefiting the rich every time they check the eye-popping Zestimate on their homes on their SUV’s touchscreen as they speed through the Tenderloin.

  8. laredland — I was trying to use polite language, but here are the anti-social behaviors I have witnessed first hand on muni in the last 20+ years: urination, deification, smoking crack, smoking meth, exposed genitals, fist fighting, yelling uncontrollably, yelling at strangers, throwing objects at other passengers at random, women being groped (several times on that one) — and those are just the ones I can vividly remember offhand. I’m sure there are others. I don’t think being “poor, middle class, or rich” (your words) has anything to do with it. They are almost universally perpetrated by individuals out of their minds on drugs and/or having a psychotic episode.

  9. Brian T,
    I am a San Francisco native. I have a major in Sociology. I frequently write articles and consider myself well informed. This anti-social behavior you describe, I have not seen. This anti-social behavior you pretend that exists, would quickly be compensated and dismissed, by the poor in a need to go where they are going. This anti-social behavior you are describing, if it exists, which I believe it does not, would be behavior from the middle class or the rich. Neither of these economic groups are likely to depend on MUNI as the poor does.
    Forgive me, Brian, I do not think you know what you are talking about.

  10. In general, I support the idea of free public transportation. There have been lots of economic studies that demonstrate that free drives behavioral change — a lot more than even a price of $0.01. Encouraging more people to stop driving and use public transport is a great outcome.

    However, in SF, this would be an absolute disaster. Unfortunately, we have a small cohort of highly anti-social individuals, and we shown again and again that we don’t have the wherewithal to create consequences for heir anti-social behavior. Free muni would accelerate the death spiral of bad behavior that keeps most individuals from even considering muni as a transportation option.

  11. If we learned anything from the last four years, it is that words cannot be taken seriously. Only actions have meaning.

  12. It is up to the people of the Bay Area and SF to fight for the city. It is up to us to stop the greed and corruption. We are a loving people with a history of tolerance and art. Fight the power.

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