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The Grid 

Wednesday, Oct 15 1997
If Cats Were Kids, and Dogs Delinquents
Likewise, no juvenile walks into the Youth Guidance Center, San Francisco's juvenile hall, without a history of equally pernicious behavioral problems and their sad, pathetic roots.

Needless to say, these two populations -- kids and kitties, doggies and delinquents -- require special attention. But if one takes note of their relative locations on the evolutionary chart, and then examines their housing stock, a shocking realization emerges. How do we put this nicely? If you're young and overrestless in San Francisco, you're better off if you have fur.

The key officials in the local animal care world are dedicated, driven, intelligent, effective, and deeply sensitive individuals. A few of their counterparts in the juvenile justice system are just as dedicated and sensitive, but most of juvie officialdom falls into one of these categories: cynically selfish poverty pimp; overly ambitious political hack; grizzled and jaded careerist; or (and this crosses all the other types) mentally or emotionally unstable hysteric who needs more social services than the kids in juvenile lockup. (Really, we ain't kidding. If the juvenile justice system is to be properly reformed, a whole slew of people ought to be medicated, restrained, loaded onto a barge, and shipped to some faraway archipelago that is provisioned with the appropriate supply of Prozac and legumes.)

For quite a while, the Grid has privately bemoaned this sad and shameful situation, wherein, during the allotment of patron saints, the furred ones got St. Francis, and the kids landed with Emperor Norton. But a piece of mail crossed our desk last week that made it impossible to remain silent a second longer. The SPCA had sent over a brochure celebrating the soon-to-open Maddie's Pet Adoption Center, the result of a really rich software exec who got a little too attached to his miniature schnauzer Maddie and decided, when said pooch passed on, to give the SPCA $1 million to build the most ostentatious, pet-friendly environment known to man.

Reading of the kitty lofts made to look like hip, SOMA live-work spaces and the dog apartments on Snoopy Street, Lassie Lane, and Benji Boulevard, all designed to look like San Francisco Victorian- and Spanish-style houses, our twisted little minds immediately imaged the dank, depressing, airless, lightless, mirthless -- and generally unsafe -- Youth Guidance Center.

Then we thought about the two facilities simultaneously. We laughed. We cried. One of us threw up.

We felt the need to share the experience.

A rendering of the new Maddie's Pet Adoption Center, as seen from 16th Street. The center will be a study in the friendly, warm, and stylish architecture that pets appreciate. The building will be ringed by a park area, trees, and pleasant paths and walkways. Its multilayered design will blend into the surrounding area and improve the neighborhood aesthetic. The interior will be airy and full of large, vista-devouring windows. Above the park, the SPCA will provide a veranda, where staff will serve visitors popcorn, biscotti, cappuccino, lemonade, and herbal teas as they decide which pet to adopt. Tables on the veranda will have large umbrellas.

The Youth Guidance Center, a classic study in cold, heartless, government-issue design. The interior is stifling: It has few windows, poor fluorescent lighting, scuffed tile or concrete floors and hallways, rugs rubbed black and raw with age, and institutional furniture made of some awful kind of plastic. The YGC has no central fire sprinkler or door-locking system for the cells; during a fire or earthquake scores of juveniles would likely die. Families waiting to see their children are afforded hard, chewed-up wooden benches or old picnic benches on a dying, weed-pocked lawn area. Parents and visitors can bring food only on Saturdays. The interview rooms offer no privacy; a recent visit found a visibly troubled girl in a room with a counselor, watching a sex-education video. Everyone walking by could see her as she witnessed penises and pubic hair grow. And, most important, she could see passers-by seeing her.

The lobby of the new Maddie's Pet Adoption Center, where a potential pet-adopter will review the computerized case history of the animal that has struck his or her fancy. The database containing these histories will provide each animal's grooming, training, and health needs, as updated throughout the animal's stay at the center. Nearby will be a computer playroom where children can watch interactive programs on different pet breeds, their temperament, grooming needs, and other particulars.

The booking unit is where the YGC staff photographs and fingerprints incoming delinquents. As best they can, staffers attempt to determine the needs and level of criminal sophistication of each youth. But a lot of things can get in the way: the use of aliases, the difficulty of obtaining information from another county or social service agency, poor record-keeping by another county or agency, any lies the child may have told the arresting officer, and any lies a youth may tell the staff at the counter. Intake staffers try to ask kids the important questions, but language barriers and the public setting can reduce the frankness of this exchange.

The interior of a dog apartment. The units will be between 45 square feet and 230 square feet for cats (not pictured), 150 square feet and 250 square feet for dogs. Each will have carpet, toys, and wood-paneled or painted walls, and a television set to alleviate boredom (Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, and Our Gang reruns for the dogs; videos of fish, birds, and squirrels for the cats). The carpet will be antimicrobial to help eliminate odor problems and will be replaced frequently. The ventilation system for the pet apartments and lofts will change the air 17 times per hour. Dog apartments will have skylights to cut down on claustrophobia.

An uncarpeted cell at the YGC. The mattress is nearly pancake thin. The window is made of almost opaque blocks of glass that let in only a modicum of light. Most cells have grates over windows that admit even less light. The air here is never changed.

The Maddie's Pet Adoption Center's dog park. Although not pictured in this illustration, a "French toilette" will be constructed to -- yes, that's right -- train dogs to use a public commode. (Later, when enough money is raised, the SPCA plans to construct such doggie toilettes all over the city for the convenience of SPCA-trained dogs.) In the park itself, a cohort of five dogs will go through three cycles daily of the following regimen: three laps around the park, followed by a 30-minute play session among the five dog buddies, and then 45 minutes of training in one of three training rooms. Each dog will have a personal trainer.

A volleyball net at the YGC. You can't see it from this photograph, but there used to be a garden surrounding this yard. Now, there's a tarp covering soil where the neglected garden died.

A rendering of the different styles of facades that will decorate the SPCA dog apartments. Bay windows will be constructed on some of the apartments.

Every hallway at the YGC looks like this.

Proposition Feel Good
Supervisor Tom Ammiano is a nice guy with a good heart, but he can let his do-gooder emotions overwhelm his common sense. Proposition G on the coming city election ballot is one example of his occasional surrender to the forces of touchy-feely irrelevance.

For some months now, Ammiano has been on a minor jihad against campaign consultants of the Jack Davis/John Whitehurst/Robert Barnes ilk. These are good people to direct one's jihadic tendencies toward; if they were to disappear from San Francisco politics, everyone who remained in the city would need to take 60 or 70 fewer showers a year.

But politics is an inherently dirty business, and cleansing it is a difficult task, fraught with the possibility that you will focus on reform minutiae and distract from the scandalous conduct that should be of primary concern.

Earlier this year, Ammiano pushed a measure to regulate campaign consultants; this column criticized it as an obviously unconstitutional attempt to hamstring specific local political operatives. Ammiano took some umbrage at what he viewed as overly rough treatment at the Grid's hands. So we will make a point, now, of saying that we have nothing personal against Ammiano and consider Proposition G to be an improvement over his former attempts to regulate campaign consultants.

If it passes in the November election, Prop. G will not be found unconstitutional in a nanosecond, as Ammiano's previous proposal would have been. But by the same token, Prop. G won't do much worth doing.

Essentially, the proposition would require campaign consultants to file financial activity reports that say which politicians and ballot measures they worked for, how much they were paid, and so on. Jeff Sheehy, Prop. G's campaign manager, says it would force campaign consultants to disclose what lobbyists and candidates already must: "Political consultants have become like the cowboys of the political system ... with no accountability to the public or the political system."

Maybe, but Prop. G won't really change that. By and large, it will just drag onto one document a variety of information that already exists in other public records. Filling out that one document won't keep campaign consultants from cutting the complicated back-room deals that seem to so bother Prop. G supporters. (This proposition also contains a genuinely silly pledge that campaign consultants could "volunteer" to take, promising never to do anything politically incorrect again, under threat of no official penalty whatsoever.)

None of Prop. G's provisions will rein in the abuses of campaign consultants. At best, its passage would let the so-called progressive left of San Francisco feel good about itself for no reason at all, which is always a bad idea.

What will curb the excesses of the Davises of the city? Real public disclosure of real ethics abuse by an intelligent and energetic press. We realize that outside SF Weekly, no such press exists hereabouts, so send all your tips on campaign consultant weaselry to the Grid. We'll make public disclosure the bitter and ugly experience the founding fathers meant it to be.


About The Authors

George Cothran


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