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The Class of 2000 

Eight years after being swept into office, a once-disorganized band of neighborhood leftists tries to create a citywide political machine.

Wednesday, Oct 29 2008
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The new progressive majority also began putting measures on the ballot to take away some of the mayor's appointment authority to boards and commissions. By the time Brown was termed out of office in 2004, the Board of Supervisors shared appointment powers with Brown — or had confirmation authority over his chosen commissioners — on some of the city's most powerful commissions, including the Planning Commission, the Board of Appeals, the Public Utilities Commission, and the Police Commission.

With its new authority, the Class of 2000 set about putting the kibosh on Brown's more controversial projects. "Our accomplishments fall into two categories," says Peskin, "the things we achieved and the terrible things that would have happened if it were not for this board of supervisors."

Peskin took the lead on scuttling a Mills Corporation proposal to build a 500,000-square-foot shopping mall and office park on the northern waterfront. He also grounded a $3.5 billion plan to fill in two square miles of the bay for runways at the San Francisco Airport, an idea adamantly opposed by environmentalists.

To shed light on the city's planning process, the Class of 2000 instituted the Better Neighborhoods 2002 program. Instead of developers hammering out deals with planning officials, the new program brought the community into the process by holding a series of public workshops, bus tours through well-designed neighborhoods, focused meetings, and study groups. The program was designed to preserve neighborhood character while developing new housing, improving streetscapes, and improving public transportation.

The three plans that have been developed under the program are the Market-Octavia Plan, the Balboa Park Plan, and the Central Waterfront Plan.

"Previously we never drew neighborhood plans; it was always generalized zoning," says Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, a planning think tank. "Now we have the best, most careful planning with crafted details and design details right down to the sidewalks."

But critics argue that the neighborhood plans are too restrictive on development, which hurts the city's potential for attracting businesses and job creation. Land use attorney Tim Tosta says development in San Francisco has become a fractured proposition for developers. Each neighborhood has different standards, and developers have to take those standards into consideration.

Tosta says the Mission Bay development plan for 303 acres between AT&T Park and Interstate 280 has been very successful in creating housing, small business, jobs, and an expanded tax base. "Look at the economic vitality of Mission Bay and how that vitality spins off all over the city," Tosta says. "Mission Bay could never have happened under the (Better Neighborhoods) rubric."

Still, it's not as though the progressives are always against big development. In fact, Daly has been an enthusiastic supporter of skyscrapers so long as the price is right. Daly hashed out a sweet deal that will allow developers to ultimately build five high-rise condominium towers near the Bay Bridge. The deal is that Daly's pet nonprofits get $14 for every square foot, which will add up to an estimated $50 million. Critics say the deal has a Brown-like stench, but Daly supporters say he represents the city's poorest district and the funding is sorely needed.


While the Class of 2000 has gone a long way to dispel the cloud of corruption that characterized Willie Brown's City Hall, it's had a few of its own scandals as well.

Last year Jake McGoldrick cast the deciding vote in favor of a proposed 61-unit condominium building in the Mission District a day after two of the project's developers, and one of their attorneys, contributed $2,000 to fight a McGoldrick recall effort. A campaign committee controlled by Peskin received a $20,000 contribution from Clear Channel Outdoor just days before the Board of Supervisors awarded the company a Muni advertising contract worth millions. And earlier this year, the state Court of Appeals ruled that the board acted illegally when it voided a lucrative sewage-hauling contract with S&S Trucking Company and instead awarded it to Norcal Waste Systems, a larger company known for its political connections. Norcal had made a more expensive bid that would cost taxpayers as much as $3 million more over five years.

Despite the current board's occasional ethical lapses, the new crop of candidates running for the Board of Supervisors in next week's election are not decrying a culture of corruption at City Hall. But a few are attacking a culture of dysfunction.

Alicia Wang, a candidate from the Richmond neighborhood seeking to replace termed-out District 1 incumbent McGoldrick, claims the board has compromised its ability to carry out city business. "This is one of the most dysfunctional boards I've ever seen," she said at a recent candidates' forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

The example Wang gave a few days after the event was last year's Proposition E, which would have required the mayor to appear at each regularly scheduled Board of Supervisors meeting and engage in formal discussion on policy issues. The measure failed, but Wang says the proposed measure was an example of "gotcha" politics that had no benefit for city residents.

Denise McCarthy, a former port commissioner running for the District 3 (North Beach and Chinatown) seat now held by Peskin, says the progressive faction has had such a lock on the board that large constituencies and some small businesses feel there's no sense in participating in public discussion because so many issues are predetermined. She also criticized supervisors and the mayor for engaging in ego-based battles that take precedence over rationally governing the city.

"This is a very important election," McCarthy says. "There are going to be some major changes, and I particularly hope we see more women on the board. More women on the board, I think, will change the dynamic."

Joseph Alioto Jr., also a District 3 candidate, says he's running for supervisor because of the feuding on the board. "Like you," Alioto says on his Web site, "I am disappointed with the current Board members' inability to work together. Their personal differences have too often taken precedence over what is best for San Francisco." He concludes with this pledge: "No political theater. No bickering. Just real progress for San Francisco."

About The Author

John Geluardi

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