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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

San Francisco Finally Shitty Enough to Make Social Progress

Posted By on Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 6:31 AM

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Coming to a San Francisco park near you?

It took a plummeting economy and disastrous wars in the Middle East to make America awful enough to rise up above centuries of racial strife with the election of Barack Obama, The Onion reported Nov. 5.

In San Francisco, it has taken a half-billion-dollar budget deficit, criminals roaming with impunity through the streets, parks littered with abandoned syringes, and packs of near-feral dogs menacing children to inspire the city to rise above a state of semifeudalism. For this, we can thank small-statured, large-ambitioned Marcus Santiago, chief security guard of San Francisco's parks.

This week's SF Weekly describes Santiago's quest to elevate his force of 14 park docents -- known as "rangers" -- to full police status. What wasn't sufficiently emphasized in the column was the potential of Santiago's crusade to accomplish a form of bureaucratic jujitsu in which San Francisco's $500 million budget deficit is exploited to enhance, rather than impoverish, the lives of San Franciscans.

Parks interim chief Jared Blumenfeld has thrown his weight behind Santiago's proposal to give his officers, now essentially Mountie-hat-wearing security guards, police powers that include making arrests, investigating crimes, and enforcing laws other than mere park ordinances against things like camping. The idea is to garner money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security set aside for bona fide law enforcement agencies.

Along with new powers, Santiago is pushing for new duties, which would raise money for the city while making it more pleasant.

Among proposals Santiago is backing:


    • Requiring commercial dog walkers to obtain permits.

    Of all the ubiquitous San Francisco nuisances -- NIMBYs, Haight Street gutter punks, park bathroom sex trolls -- the worst are commercial dog walkers. Once off-leash, their charges invariably devolve into primal pack behavior, attacking children or anyone -- or thing -- they perceive as weak or infirm. Santiago would like to see these profiteers obtain licenses, just like anyone else obtaining rent through the use of city facilities. The licenses would limit dog walkers to seven curs at a time, while requiring holders of the permits -- to be worn visibly around walkers' necks -- to obey leash and other laws. Scofflaws would lose their permits, and thus their businesses. SF Weekly suggests further enhancing revenue by making permits scarce, and auctioning them off to the highest bidders. After all: "They're making money off city property, so they should pay for it," Santiago notes.

    • Putting police-badge-wearing park rangers in charge of enforcing new parking fees in city parks.

    Before readers rashly imagine The Simpsons' Chief Clancy Wiggum busting out taillights in Golden Gate Park, it's worth pausing to examine the Department of Recreation and Parks' bizarre parking policies, in which the city relinquishes what could be millions of dollars in revenue in exchange for -- nothing. Thanks to some long-lost accident of bureaucratic history, the city's parks department is in charge of several acres of urban parking lots where, for no obvious reason, motorists are allowed to park for free. So automobile commuters clog the city lots to evade fees elsewhere. Employees of the Veterans Administration hospital near Land's End, for example, evade fees in their own facility's lot by crowding the nearby Legion of Honor museum parking lot, leaving scant weekday space for patrons.

    And motorists avoid fees charged at the Fort Mason Center parking lot by filling the City Department of Recreation and Parks' nearby Marina District lot. Freeloading motorists also make life miserable in Golden Gate Park, as they turn what could be a recreational oasis along JFK drive into an automobile-clogged hellhole every day but Sunday. Santiago would like to see rangers, rather than meter maids, enforce parking fees on parks department controlled facilities, so that the department could more easily keep the money. An even more compelling reason: The city's meter maids are notiriously ineffective at busting scofflaw sidewalk parkers, bus-stop parkers, and bike lane parkers. Newly-badged park rangers, meanwhile, would be hungry for collars.

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    Matt Smith

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