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Pier Pressure; S.F. Unwritten Rule No. 24

Wednesday, Aug 15 2001
The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran a series of prominent news stories about Chelsea Piers' failed bid to develop a huge recreational facility on Piers 27-31. The series criticized Mayor Willie Brown for lobbying the Port Commission to award the pier contract to Chelsea Piers' competitor, Virginia-based Mills Corp.

Since January, the Chronicle has run 14 news stories about Chelsea Piers' bid. Columnists Ken Garcia and Matier & Ross chimed in collectively with five columns this year praising Chelsea Piers. The paper also printed four editorials in the last year supporting the New York company's multimillion-dollar proposal, including an April 18 editorial titled "Chelsea's the Choice," which declared that the developer would "bring the most vitality and fun to the waterfront."

Despite all of that newsprint, one thing Chronicle readers didn't learn about Chelsea Piers is that one of the company's consultants is married to a member of the newspaper's editorial board.

Marshal Kilduff, who authors the Sunday Chronicle Weekly News Quiz and sits on the editorial board of the Chronicle, is the husband of Pat Schultz, who runs Pat Schultz & Associates, a public relations firm that worked for Chelsea Piers from January to April of this year.

The Chron's editorial board decides what editorial positions to take in thrice-weekly meetings. The board is supervised by Editorial Page Editor John Diaz, and includes the paper's publisher, John Oppedahl, Editor Emeritus William German, and half a dozen reporters. Members of the board also pen the editorials.

In an interview, Schultz said she took Chelsea Piers executives to meet with the editorial boards of several local newspapers, including the San Francisco Examiner, Richmond Review, and North Beach Journal. "I did not take Chelsea to the Chronicle," she said. "They already had a thing going there, talking to Jennie Strasburg [a reporter on the Port Commission beat]. I do not discuss business with my husband.

"I did not make very much money. I'm not John Burton." (State Sen. Burton earned $43,000 as a Chelsea Piers lobbyist, according to the Chronicle.)

Diaz said, "Kilduff told me early on that his wife had a contract with Chelsea Piers. She had no contact with us regarding Chelsea Piers. [Our conflict-of-interest policy] is that [Kilduff] could not write about it, or come to meetings of either side."

Did Kilduff leave the room during board meetings?

"Kilduff did not necessarily leave the room, but he had nothing to say about it," Diaz replied. "He did not participate.

"It was an unusual situation, although sometimes something comes up with which Pat Schultz is involved," Diaz said. "With other spouses it's a rare situation."

Chronicle Executive Editor Phil Bronstein said neither he nor the reporters on the Chelsea Piers stories knew that Schultz worked for the company. "The news side is a separate process from the editorials," Bronstein said. -- Peter Byrne

A reader recently wrote to SF Weekly to complain about a long-standing double standard in San Francisco. On weekend nights, police have been aggressively towing cars parked as a last resort in the median strip on Valencia between 16th and 17th streets, while their owners drink and dine in the area. Yet on Sunday mornings, churchgoers on nearby Dolores have parked for years in the middle of the street with impunity.

"In the Mission, it pays to be godly, and in the eyes of the law, drinking is still a punishable sin," Blake Gray complains. "But why is this, really? Why, when Mission businesses are closing and desperately need the weekend trade, are the cops towing away their customers? Why don't the churches get the same treatment? I'd be delighted if you could ask somebody in the SFPD about this."

SF Weekly is nothing if not responsive to its readers, so we did ask.

According to Officer Alexa O'Brien, at the Police Department's Mission Station, cars are towed along the median strip of Valencia because "that's usually what we use to go Code 3. It's an emergency vehicle route." Enforcement is stepped up on weekend nights, when traffic on Valencia is thick and emergency calls are heavy.

As for why churchgoers can, somewhat ironically, break the law without consequences, the Mission Station police declined to touch that issue with a 10-foot pole. We were put in touch with Jim Hodges, the assistant director of the enforcement division in the Department of Parking and Traffic. Hodges confirmed that his department and the police look the other way on Sundays when cars park illegally around churches. It's an "unwritten policy," he said, that has been a citywide tradition for decades. Besides, he said, his department has a skeleton crew on Sundays.

Hodges said he only occasionally gets complaints about the policy, though we found a muted undercurrent of disaffection among some Valencia Street merchants and residents. "Why are churches allowed that freedom?" asked one resident, who didn't want to be identified. "Where the hell did they get the right to do it? It's discriminatory."

In any case, one obvious solution presents itself: From now on, Mission visitors might prefer to do their barhopping on Sunday mornings. -- Matthew Smith

About The Authors

Peter Byrne


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