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Friday, December 12, 2008

"Challenge Me to the Extent that You Believe I Should Be Challenged." - Gavin Newsom's Ironic Conclusion to the State of the City

Posted By on Fri, Dec 12, 2008 at 2:30 PM

By Benjamin Wachs

If you ever wondered who was going to be the Ed Wood of YouTube, San Francisco has an answer.

Gavin Newsom added a new video to his YouTube channel yesterday - a one-and-a-half minute introduction to 311's new online service. The video itself is not worth commenting on...the production values are significantly better, but it's still just Gavin talking about 311. But the fact that he did it means that we haven't seen the last of Gavin Newsom: internet personality.

Well, maybe you haven't. I'm done. If I had to keep writing about his videos through another weekend, I'd kill myself. And dammit, I'm not going to give him the satisfaction.

Instead, since the last three Newsom-isodes in his epic "State of the City" series - on emergency planning, public art, and the census - are a combined half-hour, I'm just going to run through them all right here and be done with it.

All the Newsom-isodes are covered in unholy detail here. Don't say I never suffered for this city.

Emergency Planning:

00:35 - "One of the big areas we have invested in is reorganizing all our of our emergency operation plans." This includes creating the first regional emergency operation plan in California history. The plan involves 10 counties, none of which like each other.

02:24 - "We've also invested in upgrading our facility, our emergency operations center."

02:41 - New city emergency planning is also underway, involving cooperation across many city departments, none of which like each other.

04:19 - There have been 73 emergency training exercises since 2004. "28 have been action based, a number of them have been discussion based. Discussion based just means we'd be in an office like setting and we'd be talking about scenarios."

So, to be clear, two-thirds of the city's "emergency training exercises" have been a group of people talking in "an office like setting."

Are those really "exercises?"

05:16 - You'll be glad to know the emergency drill a few weeks ago was "very successful."

Actually, he's describing every drill, exercise, and planning event he mentions as "very successful." Should that worry me as much as it does?

07:30 - Gavin blames the board of Supervisors for not fast tracking legislation to retrofit "soft story" buildings in San Francisco. He says his administration is totally on this, though.

08:09 - "If you listen to nothing else, please go now, online, get rid of this tape, don't pay any more attention, and check out The reality is, you're going to be on your own in a major catastrophe in a major emergency for at least 72 hours. The fact remains that you need to be prepared: you can't just count on police and fire, you can't count on national guard, you can't count on the folks in the White House, even new folks in the White House, coming in and FEMA saving the day. You have to have your own emergency strategy."

10:33 - "One of the areas where we need to coordinate more is interoperability." What he means is, we're still working on getting all the different emergency communication equipment in the 10 county area to be able to communicate with each other.

12:23 - Gavin, noticeably, does not promise to keep us safe. Fair enough. But he does plug 311. Apparently it will act as a back-up 911. If everything goes to hell, and you're near a phone, he says you can give it a try.

I envision the calls going something like this:

"This is San Francisco 311, my name is Florio, how can I help you?"

"Hi Florio, I'm at 835 Frederick street, and I'm wondering: when will the next inbound ambulance arrive?"

"Inbound ambulance?"

"That's right."

"At Frederick Street?"


"625 Frederick street?"

"No, 835."


"No, 835. Could we hurry this up? I'm bleeding really fast."

"Yes sir. I show your inbound ambulance arriving in 20 minutes."

"20 minutes! But I called it over half an hour ago!"

"Well, everything's very busy since the earthquake, sir."

"I think I'm going to die."

"Let me give you the number for the Coroner's Office, sir. Their hours are 9 -5, Monday through Friday. Are you ready?"

Public Art Newsomisode

00:00 - "A big part of what makes San Francisco a unique place to live is its commitment to arts and cultural institutions."

And here I thought it was the nudity.

00:10 - Over the last 40 years, San Francisco has invested hugely in public art. Gavin is taking credit for all of it.

00:33 - "As a consequence (San Francisco) has really been the city that has been the city that has led by example, and become the inspiration for cities around the country that have replicated our model."

Obviously the city hasn't invested very much in the verbal arts.

01:06 - "The arts investment has created a better quality of life. It's driven tourism, it created economic stimulus and economic development opportunities, it anchors small business communities."

1:26 - He's still talking about the last 40 years. Gosh, I can't wait to find out if anything happened in 2008.

01:33 - Cultural centers, community grants and arts partnerships around the city "are creating jobs, and not just creating artistic expression, but are creating opportunities for people to maintain their status as San Franciscans, even if they can't afford to live here, but to work here, though we recognize that that is an area where we continue to do more."


02:20 - Gavin assures us he is vigorously pursuing private support for public art.

Does anyone doubt that Gavin is chasing private money? Has anyone ever doubted it?

03:22 - Gavin "loves" the "crouching spider" sculpture down at the Embarcadero. "I love it. Good people can disagree, but I think it excites, it invites, it challenges, it makes people think 'that's what art's all about.'"

The spider? Do tell us more, Gavin.

"It's not just about beauty from an aesthetic perspective, it's about challenging the mind and imagination."

The spider? The metal one?

Most people I know who have seen it say things like "Hey, is that a giant metal spider?" and "Someone put a giant metal spider on display?" They don't say "Aaaaah! My preconceptions have been shattered! My precious, precious preconceptions! Stop challenging my mind!"

It suddenly occurs to me that Gavin talks about art the way people who know they're supposed to like art, but don't really, talk about art.

04:04 - While praising the artwork of Manolo Valdes, which appeared at Civic Center a while back, Gavin shows a keen grasp of geography: "These have been in the world's most famous capitals. From parts of Spain ... Paris ... and other parts of the world where Manolo Valdes been afforded the opportunity to put his public art."

Ah yes - the world's most famous capitals.

04:26 - But art isn't just about art, it's also about stuff! "We also focused on the environment, we did these cool globes, they're all part about the environment and educating our kids and about a sustainable future."

04:46 - How many clichés can you spot in this sentence? "Art's part of the vibrancy of our economic life blood."

05:09 - Art is "at the core an economic development strategy."

I knew it had to be good for something.

07:23 - "We have the Harlem of the west out in the Western Addition."

07:44 - He plugs Yoshi's. "I can't encourage you more to go down there."

Should he really be plugging private clubs?

08:09 - He's pleased to offer a Mayor's art award.

08:50 - The city is investing in what Gavin says is a comprehensive art education for all SF students. Because, as we know, young artists make good consumers.

09:27 - Not to drive the point home, but he ends by saying that "art is an important part of our economic future, as well as our social and cultural one."

The order of those things strongly suggests that he sees art as validated by its consumption, and that, in the end, he prefers consumption to art.

City Census Challenge

00:00 - "Now one of the things I've been noticing in our city the last couple of years, it seems like there's more businesses, more visitors, and more residents in our city."

Don't be coy with us, Gavin - nobody believes you were riding the N one day and, staring in a small child's eyes, said "By golly, I think San Francisco's growing!"

00:19 - "As a consequence, we started to look around, and we said to ourselves, 'wait a minute, these old census numbers don't make sense!'"

No, the numbers make perfect sense: it's just the population that's off. At least, that's what I said to myself.

The Newsom administration thinks the census has undercounted San Francisco's population by missing many of the homeless, the illegal immigrants living in dangerously crowded conditions, and the hipsters who are too ironic to fill out a questionnaire.

It might not be a mistake: it might be wishful thinking.

00:26 - "And so we challenged those census numbers recently, by becoming one of the first cities in the state of California to go to the census bureau and say 'You're off! You're off by, we believe, 100,000 people!'"

The conversation, I'm fairly sure, actually did not happen like that.

01:03 - "Now why does that matter? Why do I offer this slide as an important slide? Because I do think it's an important slide."

It's oddly endearing that, after all this time, Gavin still thinks anyone is paying attention to the slides.

Gavin goes on to explain that this matters because many state and federal funding decisions are made on the basis of population. He takes much longer to say it than I just did.

02:17 - He's not talking about the census anymore. "Anyone in an executive position needs to be held accountable for what they say." Huh? Where is Gavin going with this?

02:36 - Gavin Newsom, who recorded a 7.5 hour presentation alone in a dark room rather than face a live audience, tells us that he wants us to "challenge me to the extent that you believe I should be challenged."

02:49 - But instead of risking Human Contact, Gavin has set up an "accountability matrix" "of every single thing that I have said during the campaign, when I ran for mayor the first time in 2003, when there were 212 specific pledges," and every single thing he said in all subsequent speeches, leading to 398 specific promises he claims to have made.

Of all the promises he's made, according to Newsom's matrix, 82% have been kept. Of the 18% of promises he made that have not yet been kept, "Some are still in progress, some I've reconsidered, some are just ridiculous."

Actually, I think that applies to the whole Newsom administration.

He further elaborates that 17 of his ideas were "just bad ideas that felt like good ideas at the time that we acknowledge were just bad ideas."

He doesn't name any of them - nor does he say he should be held accountable for having bad ideas: his accountability matrix only holds him accountable for not keeping the good ones.

The matrix, so far as I can tell, also does not cover the promises he made during his first marriage, the promises he made to Ruby Rippy-Tourk, or any of the deals he struck with Satan.

04:36 - "There are literally hundreds of pages backing up this slide right here." Why does he think that will impress anyone? Why?

04:50 - This process, of creating a matrix filled with numbers no one else cares about or designed, is what Gavin calls "Holding myself accountable."

It's amazing that, other places in this country, some people still try to be accountable without a matrix.

05:39 - Referring to the YouTube videos, Gavin hopes you'll get "some satisfaction from, or at least some understanding from" his "new form of government."

05:46 - "I hope you've enjoyed this different form of a state of the city."

Vengeance will be mine.

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