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Monday, October 27, 2008

SF Gov InAction: Superheroes, Stereotypes, and all of San Francisco to become One Giant Tourism District!

Posted By on Mon, Oct 27, 2008 at 2:19 PM


By Benjamin Wachs

With the election so close, no one’s been paying much attention to what the current Board of Supervisors is doing: they’ve seen their ratings go down and their household penetration in a slump, so this week they’ve brought in some script-doctors to help them make their work more appealing to the public at large. Because not only are they losing out to the election; more people are watching videos of people getting hurt on YouTube than are keeping track of their government.

The script-doctors had four recommendations for how to get more people interested in local government:

1) More meetings. And make those meetings look like they’re accomplishing something.

2) Adopt a spunky black kid who can walk around the meetings saying things like “What’cho talkin’ about, Chris Daly?” and teach Sean Elsbernd a little something about the streets. His name is Bradley, which ratings experts say is non-threatening.

3) Superpowers! Everybody loves superpowers! That’s why, at the end of last week the board was exposed to that truck containing radioactive isotopes; this week, they’ll all discover that they have extraordinary abilities. This week we’ll learn that Jake McGoldrick can bend steel bars with his bare hands and that Michela Alioto-Pier can read minds. Ross Mirkarimi, who is now invulnerable and superfast, will single handedly begin catching every criminal in district 5. Bevan Dufty has the power to kill holidays.

4) A wedding. Oh, wait, Gavin Newsom already did that to boost his ratings. Dammit.

So if the meetings we preview this week seem a little different, a little more useful, with a lot more explosions and everyone worried about getting Bradley to school on time, this is why: It’s all your fault for not paying attention back when it was boring.

Monday, Oct. 27

10 a.m. – Government Audit & Oversight Committee

The big news to come out of this meeting is that Sophie Maxwell, Aaron Peskin, and the Mayor (has he TOLD you about his wedding?) are proposing to turn ALL OF SAN FRANCISCO into a new Tourism Improvement District.

That’s right, the entire city. I feel strangely vindicated by this giant act of zoning hubris regularly; readers know I’ve been predicting for some time now that the city would eventually turn into one enormous special use district.

And now it will.

Assuming it passes, the Tourism Improvement District would levy a fee on all hotels in the district (that is, San Francisco), the proceeds of which would be used to create a tourism management plan for the district (that is, San Francisco), and fund activities and improvements to boost tourism in the district (that is, San Francisco).

This is probably a very good idea except for one thing: San Francisco already has a comprehensive plan that, so far as I can tell, no one pays any attention to. Couldn’t we just use that?

That question will probably never be answered (at least not well), so let’s turn our attention to another question:

What would you do if you had $2 billion dollars?

Think about it...think about it...OK! How many of you said “rebuild an airport?” Show of hands!

Yeah, me neither. But at this meeting the Supes will approve $2.5 billion in airport bonds. I just thought you should know.

“That’s a lot of Benjamins!”

Yes, Bradley, yes it is.

Speaking of an informed public, it’s important that any contractors working on government projects work to keep the public informed of what they’re trying to do. Why? Because as we’ve already established, you’re just not paying attention. They could write about the project in the local newspaper, but would you read a story entitled “Architectural Review of Former Library Facility Underway”?

No. No you would not. You would skip to the part about Angelina Jolie’s kids.

“Now that’s WHACK!”

It sure is. Thank you Bradley.

(According to polling data, Bradley makes viewers more comfortable if he uses slang at least 8 years out of date)

Another reason it’s important is that Supes want the local small business community to be involved in as many of the projects as possible - So the Supes passed a law requiring contractors to make “good faith outreach efforts” to the local business community for subcontracting work. None of these outreach efforts, surprisingly, were required to involve sex – which makes me wonder: were they serious about getting people’s attention or not?

But these chaste attention-getting means, which include posting information in accessible locations and attending meetings, are getting too onerous for our city’s contractors – so now the Supes are putting all the outreach activities on a point system, and instead of 100% compliance, contractors must meet 80 out of 100 points to be considered in compliance.

This is supposed to help prevent discrimination...somehow. Don’t ask me, ask Sophie Maxwell. It’s her idea. But be careful. She now has complete control over magnetism.

Finally, this meeting will conclude with a look at the Blue Ribbon Panel report on the future of St. Luke’s Hospital. According to Tom Ammiano, who can now see the future in his dreams, it will require meteor shielding.

10 a.m. – Public Safety Committee

Bullets now bounce off Ross Mirkarimi’s skin. His eyes shoot lasers. His “cold breath” can freeze a tsunami in mid-crash. His x-ray vision can see through any object except lead.

He was sent here as a child by his father, Mirka-El, moments before his home planet of Krypton destroyed itself after failing to pass legislation mandating recyclable plastic bags. Now he and his committee of heroes, the SUPERVISORS, are putting an end to crime in the Mission. Only the Legion of Doom can stop them...and they’re in Pennsylvania, campaigning for McCain.

12 p.m. – Rules committee

A well-publicized study recently said that SF has a problem with noise pollution, and so Tom Ammiano is calling for a tightening of the city’s noise control ordinance, and for the city to set up a “Noise Task Force.” Great, just what we need, a…

“Aw, man! Does this mean I can’t walk down the street with my boom box blarin’ my tunes?”

Yes, Bradley, that’s exactly what it means.

“Well shoot!, I am such a stereotype, aren’t I?”

Maybe – but according to focus groups you test really well with 24 - 46 year old European tourists. They’re 30% more likely to buy an “Alcatraz” sweat shirt; 21% more likely to visit Fisherman’s Wharf; and a whopping 45% more likely to order dessert at a fine restaurant after they hear about you.

“I understand this is all about consumption … um, dawg … but at least give me a little dignity! Am I not a man? Have I not eyes and hands, dimensions, senses, and affections? If you cut me, do I not bleed? If you poison me, do I not die?”

I’m sorry, there’s just no room for dignity in tourism, Bradley. The more our economy depends on it, the more we’re going to need to put our sense of privacy and identity away and conform to a set of stereotypes about “San Franciscans” and the “San Francisco experience.” Government policy will increasingly push it on us, and tourism issues will enter full steam into every other discussion about city policy.

“So let me get this straight: you’re saying that San Francisco policy will increasingly come to support an outsider’s notions of our city’s cultures, rather than supporting the actual cultures living here today?”

Could you use an antiquated slang term to cap that of?


Yes, that’s what I’m saying: Of course, the jobs created by these tourism efforts, along with the general economic well-being, will benefit minority neighborhoods and culture indirectly. There is a big upside, especially in this economy. But fundamentally, tourists don’t care about how affordable housing is or whether social services are fairly distributed. They care about safe and clean streets, delectable shopping, and exciting nightlife. Those will become more important priorities.

“You’re making a mockery of our principles!”

Welcome to the global tourism economy.

“Up yours! I quit! I’m going to start a non-profit to provide help to parents in troubled neighborhoods.”


Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to new Bradley, a plucky Chinese student who opposes affirmative action because he thinks it will keep him out of Princeton. We expect he’ll do great things to boost the number of visitors from mainland China.

“Thank you. And let me just say, for the record, that I am in favor of any ordinance that helps keep the louder elements of our city down to reasonable, healthy levels.”

That’s great, Bradley. Hey, could you maybe put that in the form of an ancient Chinese proverb?

“You disgust me.”

Fair enough.

1 p.m. – Land use & Economic Development Committee

Oh merciful Jesus, are we STILL TALKING about how to handle freakin’ SIDEWALK FLOWER VENDING STAND PERMITS? Really? Really?


Sorry about that – it’s just that sometimes Jack McGoldrick gets these ideas, and proposes them as laws, and then they keep circling round and round and never go away. Like … what … what’s that? Jake McGoldrick is proposing a ban on wooden fixed utility ladders in certain categories of residential dwellings? Noooooooooooo!

Meanwhile Aaron Peskin and Michela Alioto-Pier (very much the odd couple) are proposing an amendment to the planning code that would allow the city to better punish entities who violate advertising sign requirements over and over again.

Because … um … somehow we forgot to put that into the code back when it was first developed. Apparently it never occurred to us that somebody might abuse the law more than once.


Another new change to the planning code, again proposed by Peskin, would prohibit formula retail uses in Chinatown. It …

“What? Why would he do that?”

Well Bradley … um, you’re still Chinese, right?


Okay. Well, it’s to preserve the historic character of the neighborhood and support locally owned businesses. Plus, with the new emphasis on tourism … well … big spenders from Denmark don’t want to go to Chinatown and find a Walgreens. That’s not the experience they’re looking for.

“But my grandparents live near Chinatown, and they could really use a discount pharmacy!”

I understand. But … um … well … hmmmm … how to put this gently: nobody cares. Preserving your neighborhood is much too important to be left to your neighborhood.

“You are such a paternalistic bastard.”

I don’t know, Bradley, this actually strikes me as a pretty good policy …

“You know who has well-preserved neighborhoods? The Amish! Well, nobody asked my grandparents if they want to be stuck in the 18th century!”

But chain retail businesses really do kill the character of a neighborhood and hurt local enterprise …

“Yeah, but real people don’t want to live in a museum! Formula retail is so popular because it serves a useful purpose!”

And because it exploits the system in a way that’s good for shareholders but not for neighborhoods.

“Don’t pretend to care about me: you’re protecting moneyed interests and the tourism trade.”

Speaking of which, why aren’t you out there hawking Golden Gate Bridge mementos?

“Can’t today: I’m canvassing for JROTC in the city schools.”


Politics and tourism may have to have a showdown at some point …

As if that weren’t controversial enough, another round of Peaker Plant hearings will be held at this meeting. If you don’t expect it to get heated, you haven’t been paying attention. Sophie Maxwell’s on one side … the Mayor’s on the other (has he TOLD you about his wedding?) – it never gets easier.

Tuesday, Oct. 28

10 a.m. – City Operations & Neighborhood services Committee

While touring the PG&E facilities, Freshman legislator Carmen Chu was accidentally bathed in the rays of a new, experimental, energy source that can produce half as much energy as conventional coal but cause three times the environmental damage! The exposure altered her body chemistry, giving her the proportionate strength and speed of a legislator who has actually accomplished something! Now, whenever she says the magic words “No on Prop H” she accesses her incredible powers, and can appear on thousands of PG&E flyers at the same time! But will she use her incredible new powers for good…or for evil?

It’s too early to tell. Right now she’s sponsoring a measure “urging” the school district to change its school assignment system. Because with great power comes great timidity.

Also at this meeting: Jake McGoldrick keeps pushing his proposal to prohibit any new advertising on street furniture or on the sides of government buildings. This probably would have been an easier sell before the economy entered rigor mortis, but if he can pull it off, more power to him.

2 p.m. – Full Board of Supervisors

This meeting sucks. It’s all either measures that everybody already knows about, or it’s measures that nobody cares about.

I have half a mind to go and cat-call it, but The Incredible Peskin would probably beat me senseless. The more he drinks, the stronger he is.

Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1 p.m. – Land Use & Economic Development Committee

Eastern Neighborhoods Plan … blah blah blah … Eastern Neighborhoods … blah blah blah … Eastern Neighborhoods Plan … blah.

That’s it – we’re done for this week.

“Not quite yet.”

Why’s that, Bradley?

“I just got out of a meeting with the Director of Tourism for the Chinese Consulate, and they say they’re not willing to approve more visits to San Francisco unless local activists stop supporting the Dalai Lama.”

What! We can’t do that!

“It’s important to economic development. So much depends on tourism now, and we really have to make our numbers. A public statement denouncing him would put us over the top.”

But that would be completely contrary to San Francisco’s authentic political views!

“Oh, so YOUR political views are 'authentic' San Francisco? Who died and made you Progressive?"

Economics shouldn't get in the way of people's ability to freely express their ideas!

"Welcome to the global tourism economy.”

It doesn’t work like that!

“Of course it does – we’re just giving the customer what they want. Come on. You know that people who have even more money riding on tourism are going to want fewer waves made.”

I’m sorry, I’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

"Oh yeah, Tibet-boy? What are you going to do about it?"

(Sigh). Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to the new gay Hispanic Bradley.

Some day we’re going to get this right...

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Benjamin Wachs


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