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Wednesday, Mar 3 1999

Page 3 of 3

"I had come back after a couple of months and saw all the poles on Haight Street stripped," Porcaro says. "I thought: How did San Francisco become like L.A?" Porcaro, a long-standing member of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, asked around and found out about Thurber and his activities.

He fired off an e-mail to his friend Kathy Ketman, a fellow computer programmer, in January, sharing his initial thoughts:

"Nowadays when you walk down Haight Street, there are no more posters advertising bands like JFKKFC, Cat Butt and Dog Stick, no more Reality Maps [a spiral-form explanation of the mystical nature of the world created by a neighborhood woman dubbed the Cosmic Lady], demonstration notices, free couch announcements, or pleas from deadheads needing rides to wherethehell ever.

"Instead you see sanitized lampposts with signs announcing that you will be fined for posting anything.

"This pisses me off to the point where I either 1) want to move away from San Francisco because it's becoming right wing or 2) I want to fight this."

Porcaro chose to stay and fight. His first target will be Kaufman's law. After that, he and his fellow free-speech lovers, who have formed the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Free Speech in San Francisco, will figure out what to do about the so-called Community Clean-Up Project.

Porcaro and fellow members of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council say they plan on showing up at Board of Supervisors' meetings where Kaufman's law will be discussed and voted on, and will have the help of a lawyer, if it becomes necessary to sue.

Others have researched the law and wonder whether Thurber is acting illegally when he tears down fliers. After all, if someone obeys all the city's requirements on fliers -- how they can be hung, how long they can be left up, etc. -- and a zealot with city funding comes along and takes them down, isn't he breaking the law?

One of Thurber's chief targets has been Slim's nightclub, which plasters large swaths of San Francisco with fliers that announce upcoming shows. As soon as they go up, Thurber tears them down. The nightclub thinks Thurber is acting illegally.

"We follow the letter of the law," says Slim's general manager and part owner Dawn Holliday. "He's interfering with our business, and that's against the law. If he doesn't stop we will sue him."

But that type of lawsuit seems unlikely to have much effect on the small-f fascists down at San Francisco City Hall. Whether through newsrack ordinances or flier ordinances, Willie and Babs have decided that government will impinge on free speech whenever that impingement serves their tight-ass sense of social order.

And enforcement of Official Speech Control will he handed over to the government-funded neighborhood enforcer, Rick Thurber.

Back in the early 1960s, the administration at UC Berkeley tried to regulate the expression of political speech on Telegraph Avenue.

Students had established tables and other structures, picked freely and at random, where they distributed handbills and fliers advocating everything from Maoism to Mickey Mouseism. People gave soapbox speeches, some intelligent, some outlandish, and some far from the normal avenues of rational thought. It was a wonderful mix of ideas. It was a conversation, a free, unfettered, messy -- sometimes very messy -- but distinctly American conversation.

It was the sort of messy public conversation one used to see in the fliers in the Haight and other city neighborhoods, before Thurber set to work with Willie Brown's blessing.

When the administrators at UC Berkeley tried to regulate the free market of ideas, the kids stood up and said no. It was called the Free Speech Movement. The late Mario Savio got up on a cop car in his stocking feet (he didn't want to hurt the paint job) to make speeches about odious machines and throwing our bodies against their gears. It was something Willie Brown supported.

But that was before Brown traded in his dashiki and his principles for a Brioni and power.

Now, just across the bay, we face an older, power-hungry Willie Brown and his thoughtless henchwoman, Barbara Kaufman. Both seem intent on placing government between newspapers and readers, and between lost pets and the owners who want them back desperately.

These two municipal tyrants are intent on destroying a great deal of what is unique and beautiful about San Francisco, because they don't understand San Francisco. And what they do understand, they don't appear to like.

This is how Peter Doty put it in a recent article for the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council newsletter: "Barbara Kaufman needs to be reminded that she is a Supervisor for San Francisco, not Singapore; we don't want a neat and tidy Police Space just because a few individuals can't handle the aesthetics of fliers on poles."

Doty hit the nail on the head. Thurber, Kaufman, Brown, and everyone else who thinks newspapers and fliers are threats to public order ought to move to Singapore -- or Walnut Creek -- and leave the rest of us to carry on the great and untidy traditions of free speaking in San Francisco.

George Cothran ( can be reached at SF Weekly, 185 Berry, Suite 3800, San Francisco,

About The Author

George Cothran


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