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Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Speaking of Responsibility, We've Taken It;" "Everything the 49ers Have Asked Us to Do, We've Done," - the Wit and Wisdom of Gavin Newsom on the economy

Posted By on Thu, Dec 11, 2008 at 8:19 AM

By Benjamin Wachs

What's that, you say? Didn't Gavin already give a Newsom-isode on the economy? Well, yes, but that was the "Economic Climate." This is the Newsom-isode on "Economic Development."

What's the difference? Well, one kind of tells you what Gavin plans to do, and the other kind of explains why he can't.

Personally, I can't believe anyone is actually still reading my notes about these things - isn't there enough misery in the world?

But if you are, at least make it a drinking game. If he says he's "proud" of something, or "I get it," take a shot. It's what I do.

Anyone who thinks I can keep watching Gavin Newsom-isodes without drinking heavily understands neither politics nor journalism.

00:00 - "One of the areas that I'm very proud of" (take a shot) "in our city is that we have not neglected the infrastructure in the last number of years."

He's talking roads, bridges, parks and playgrounds.

Our capital program to keep them up, a $19.8 billion program, "now will be a godsend in terms of addressing the macro-economic climate and challenges that we're facing."

So, to be clear, Gavin's plan to address the new economic climate is doing exactly what we were going to do anyway.


00:56 - What's wrong with this statement?

"That is the first time, and I think this is important, it's the first time that we've had a capital plan in our city's history. And this was initiated just a couple of years ago by the Board of Supervisors in partnership with our office: with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, Supervisor Carmen Chu, and others, that really wanted to push the bar in terms of organizing our capital needs in a thoughtful and a deliberative manner as opposed to a scatter shot way as we were doing it in the past."

Time's up!

If you said "The city only first developed a capital plan a few years ago? That's MADNESS!" then you're right, but you're over thinking it.

If you said "Wait a minute, Carmen Chu just got appointed to office last year - she couldn't possibly have been involved with a capital plan developed several years ago," you're RIGHT!

Gavin Newsom has given up even trying to thank the appropriate people, and is instead just crediting his friends and allies with whatever he has at hand.

In that vein:

• Diane Feinstein personally apprehended several criminals over the weekend;

• Sean Elsbernd bakes a delicious banana bread;

• Carmen Chu stormed the beaches at Normandy;

• Nancy Pelosi defeated the notorious Mexican wrestler "Jefe Loco" and took his mask.

01:36 - Gavin is horrified to learn that the city was only investing $12 million in capital funds each year before he made in into office. He's bumped that up significantly, about three times as much, since then.

This, incidentally, is part of the reason why we have no money left in our general fund. I honestly don't know if that's a good payoff or not.

02:25 - "How many of you are fed up with the potholes? How many of you are fed up with the quality of the streets? I certainly am. I get it." (Take a shot).

His point: We have been underfunding what it takes to fix the streets for over a decade - now we're finally spending what they need.

03:54 - "The Tenderloin streets are in bad disrepair as well."

That's probably because people keep dying on them.

04:06 - In fiscal years 08/09 and 09/10, "we're going to invest over $80 million for street repairs." And remember, that's just for streets. "We are going to see a marked improvement." Promises promises.

05:10 - Do I have to mention the water system improvements? Anybody object? Anybody feel especially passionate? Anybody? Anybody? Good public work? Okay.

05:56 - I could be wrong, but I think Gavin just referred to the water system improvement program (WISP) as an economic development tool.

Honestly I'd be happy if it just safeguarded the water system. Could we kind of focus on that?

07:03 - "If you're going to talk economic development, one of the great economic development strategies and stimulus strategies is housing development."

I have to ask: Isn't that how housing bubbles happen... like the kind that just kicked our economy off the road?

I'm just asking. If we're going to build housing, shouldn't we do it because it makes sense as a housing strategy, rather than an economic strategy?

Then again, what so far this speech is about all the stuff he was planning to do ANYWAY, that he's now justifying as economic development. Shouldn't he lose points for that?

08:21 - "No more important area to invest and focus in than the issue of public housing, and the terrible conditions of public housing in this city."

(Sigh.) Yes Gavin, that's an amazing economic development strategy that last month was a just a bad housing strategy.

09:51 - "Speaking of responsibility, we've taken it."

I just can't read this without laughing.

He's talking about Prop G - last election's Lennar/Hunter's Point rezoning. Which I love in principle and worry about deeply in practice.

10:46 - "Everything the 49ers have asked us to do, we've done."

He's oddly proud of that.

11:36 - "$76.3 million in this climate was secured by speaker Nancy Pelosi, Diane Feinstein, and others (to clean up the Hunter's Point Shipyard). I couldn't be more proud." (Take a shot.)

12:22 - "And we're looking forward to engaging in a positive dialogue with the 49ers in the next calendar year."

Well, it's certainly been positive for them.

13:43 - He's showing us T-third line schematics. Dear God.

14:13 - The city has many biotech companies now. Gavin - say it with me now - "couldn't be more proud of this." (Take a shot.)

15:15 - Something about the Transamerica building and the light rail to L.A. Do you really care what he has to say? It's not like he's in charge; or the people in charge like him.

16:30 - Now he's talking about the Eastern Neighborhood Plan. "Ten, almost 15 years, we've been talking about this. We're down to the final brush strokes, as it were, to get this done. Working with members of the Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Maxwell who's had enough of our office going back and forth on amendments."

Truer words, from what I hear, were never spoken.

So now Gavin is claiming that a process that was initiated almost 15 years ago is in fact part of a cutting edge economic development strategy.

20:35 - I checked my email quickly, and when I looked up Gavin was talking about the Exploratorium. "We love the Exploratorium."

21:34 - The piers that Gavin says will finally be developed this year: 27. 29, 30, 32, 70. "We're going to see (progress) once and for all."

25:20 - "You look at the greatest cities in the world, they had one thing in common."

Ooh, what could it be? Buildings? Roads? Written laws? Effective public hygiene systems? Gays? Jews? A Mayor's Office of Economic Development?

"Extraordinary arts and cultural programs."

Oh, sure, that too. Although...not to put too fine a point on it but ... "extraordinary arts and culture" is not actually the same thing as "extraordinary arts and cultural programs." In fact, sometimes there's a world of difference.

26:06 - "Contemporary Art Museum in the Presidio - Don Fisher, thank you for holding in there. I know there's still a lot of concern about that, a lot of issues, we need to work through that, but we need ... if he's going to contribute a billion dollars of contemporary art, we need to keep it in San Francisco. Let's do everything we can to be respectful of anyone who wants to contribute this type of collection to our city."

Yes, because if the arts stand for anything, it's that money buys respect.

26:30 - He plugs the Bayview Opera House. I was just there as part of the annual Trolley Dances - it is a very cool venue.

27:15 - If I understand this correctly, he wants to put the proposed "Mexican Museum" next to the "Contemporary Jewish Museum." No disrespect meant to anyone, but, do we really think that will go well?

Isn't it kind of a Daily Show segment waiting to happen?

28:00 - Apparently the new Academy of Arts and Sciences "is a big reason why I'm optimistic about our city's future."

Huh. Personally I would have gone with "strong reserve funds," but, I'm not the crashing YouTube bore.

28:15 - Gavin makes a fascinating claim. "This is the City of St. Francis. That's our namesake: San Francisco. This is a city with probably as much or more faith-based organizations delivering social services than any city in America."

I have no idea if that's true, but I'm intrigued.

He rattles off a small list of organization names, making a convincing case. "But we do it in a way that doesn't promote one religion over another."

Yes, I'll buy that. Where are you going with this?

Oh: it all ends up with the restoration of the Porziuncula (a small Catholic shrine) to North Beach - a pet project of Angela Alioto's. "I'm very proud of my city." (Take a shot.)

That was waaaaaay too big a wind-up.

Also, while I have no objection to this, I think Catholic art is a crucial part of the history of Western civilization ...but I'm a little stunned that Gavin would make a peon to religion so soon after Prop 8.

He does know who organized that, right?

30:58 - He's talking about his "Better Neighborhood" planning process. So far as I can tell, making neighborhoods "better" means providing more houses and more places to shop.

31:35 - Amazingly, he talks about neighborhoods "that don't get the attention they deserve," without giving them the attention they deserve.

32:03 - This is an extraordinary sequence, in which you're really not sure if Gavin loses himself midway through and improvises, or if it actually all makes sense in his head.

He starts off talking about Chinatown: "Get folks back there visiting, not just tourists but residents. Let's come back to Chinatown. It's an extraordinary place to be and to visit, we should be proud of it. (Take a shot.) First Chinatown in America, third of our population of Asian descent, a gateway to China Asia and Pacific ..."

And then, without so much as a pause, he switches to talking about San Francisco. "...24 hour city, a world class city, that has always identified itself with the fate of others around the world."

THEN, again with no pause or warning, makes a fairly breathtaking pronouncement:

"...and a city that truly will have its strongest opportunity, in terms of its economic development, is in relationship to its relationship to China."

Hear that? China is the future. Chinatown represents that future.

"And that's why it's important for Chinatown to be a symbolic center of that relationship, and that's why it's important to revitalize and promote it."

I'd say that San Francisco is becoming like Berkeley - a city with a foreign policy - except that theirs makes moral sense and ours makes business sense.

I'm not sure either of us gets the right end of this deal.

33:22 - "This is a big deal: first foreign office San Francisco has ever opened, and it's in China. I'm proud of it." (Take a shot.)

34:01 - Gavin Newsom envisions bocce ball areas in the grassy area in Ferry Park. "Before you throw it out and dismiss it, here's a conceptual plan: it's a way of creating some energy and vibrancy and connection with the businesses, and bring back an old sport in San Francisco, as an interim strategy: just to create, again, some dynamic activity in an area that's underutilized. Then we'll do the larger master plan."

Does he really have nothing better to think about?

35:53 - "The civic center is an area where we want you to visit as well." And not just for gun buy-backs!

"Many people do visit, but they don't always necessarily have the experience that I think they could."

They don't attend a committee hearing, rip their hair out, and violently denounce Democracy?

36:16 - He wants to create a Civic Center "that connects to a whole different narrative of activity. Where we're doing wifi, where we're we've got outdoor filming, where we've got water features and artistic components, where we incorporate the latest technology in wind generation and solar programming, where we reduce waste water and we reduce water consumption, where we reduce energy consumption."

He'll be working with the Clinton Foundation to role this out in the new year, so you know it will utilize cutting-edge best practices in adultery.

36:58 - "Ocean Beach: let's not forget Ocean Beach."

Well, okay, but only since you asked.

He's convened a task force "and their job is to come up and envision Ocean Beach in a different way as a different resource." He says Carmen Chu is "leading the way," so it likely will be quiet and supportive of PG&E.

37:48 - Since the tiger attack, revenues at the zoo are down 11%, attendance is down 15%, and the zoo is running "a big budget deficit."

I have two responses to this: first, I appreciate Gavin bringing it up. This is genuine news to me, and worth knowing, and yeah, it took a little courage to talk about it.

Second: Gavin has just proven that he knows the word "deficit" exists, and can use it correctly in a sentence.

38:14 - Gavin is encouraging people "to come back to what is now, arguably, one of the safest zoos in the world."

I dunno ... just how arguable is it? Could maybe we get a sign saying "2 years without a human fatality" before we start bragging ?

38:42 - He refers to the zoo as a tourist attraction, which is certainly true. But he also refers to it as a "cultural institution." I don't know about that.

39:49 - Gavin says we have a plan to create standards for "world class streets."

"What's a world class street?" he asks. "It's a pedestrian-friendly street. It's a street that has a lot of open space, even a street with open space - meaning it has bulb-outs. A street that may have places to sit. A street that has beautiful trees. Maybe historic lighting. That has awnings that create a sense of identity and place, and artistic components."

So ... a nice street?

41:30 - The general fund money put into parks has more than doubled in Newsom's administration, and the city has completed some 90 new parks. Newsom says they are "Economic development: anchoring the future of communities by anchoring open space and recreational opportunities and activity."

Oh come on, man: not EVERYTHING the city spends money on is economic development.

By this logic, bribing Willy Brown stimulates our crucial haberdashery sector, while Newsom's haircuts encourage tourism.

43:48 - "In 2007 we surveyed 1,300 people, 87% rated their parks excellent or good."

That's nice. Hey, isn't it 2008?

44:09 - OH MY GOD - He THANKS Yomi Agunbiade for his "hard work!"

GAVIN! You forced the guy out because he was (allegedly) sexually harassing his subordinate! He (allegedly) wrote letters to her saying she needed to dress more modestly in order to get right with God! And he wasn't even that good a Rec & Parks director! Surely there has to be SOMEONE else you can thank!

Think. Think hard. And if you still can't come up with someone, think harder.

It's amazing how badly this city handles sexual harassment issues. On the other hand, maybe it starts at the top. My colleague Joe Eskenazi once envisioned the Mayor's conversation with Agunbiade going like this:

"So, she accused you of sexual harassment? Well, did you offer her $16 grand? No? Well, there's your problem!"

44:45 - I LOVE libraries. But dammit, new libraries are NOT economic development! Even if you put a library in a park, it's still NOT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT!

They're libraries! They provide their services for free! They DON'T CHARGE FOR BOOKS AND DVDs! You can say they're "good for neighborhoods," but they are NOT economic development!

45:56 - "I think there's a lot to be thankful for. (Take a shot.)"

46:21 - "I think there's a lot to be thankful for. (Take a shot.)"

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Benjamin Wachs


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