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Monday, April 27, 2009

SF Gov InAction: Toxic Babies Are Not an Option!

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 11:44 AM


Sometimes ... and I want to make it very clear that this is not drug-induced ... I don't think San Francisco is a real city at all. I think that maybe we're a Lego city, populated by Weebles.

It makes as much sense as anything Sophie Maxwell's said lately.

Why would I think this? Well, have you ever seen our parades?

Gavin weebles and wobbles...
  • Gavin weebles and wobbles...
In addition, I've noticed that Gavin Newsom weebles and wobbles but won't fall down, and that an earthquake will eventually reduce us to a multi-colored pile of building blocks that our weeble construction crews won't ever be able to rebuild, for two reasons:
• Because they're union and they have a contract clause stating that they don't work in emergencies, and

• Because weebles don't have arms.

It's poor planning on our part, really. But that's typical of the way we do things here in Lego SF. We push projects because they let us use the yellow helicopter attachment that we've been all excited about ever since the cool kids in Europe said "You know what would really be avant-guarde, Inga? A yellow helicopter attachment! That would really piss off the middle class!"

Since then we've been desperate to put it in a major public project, and we yelled about it until our parents spent all their retirement money to get it. Then -- after we pulled it out of the box -- we discover that we can't make the yellow helicopter attachment go without the Motorized Welfare Action Kit, and there's no way we can afford that this year, so now we're stuck with a public park shaped like helicopter. That's infested by voles. With rabies. So we're talking about turning our yellow helicopter attachment into a private golf course and rabid vole farm. The way they've done it in Europe.

What I'm saying is: Everyone played with toys as a child -- except possibly for David Chiu, who was reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People when he exited the womb. Looking at the way this city is governed, I'm increasingly convinced that, deep down, the people who run it also think of it as a pile of Legos, populated by Weebles. Because ... well ... remember the way that, as a child, you'd ram your toy cars into each other, just to see them crash? You've never done that with your real cars, have you? And you never would.

You'll see what I mean at this week's meetings. But first, I've just been informed that April is National Poetry Month, and so here's a gratuitous Maya Angelou reference:

I know why Sean Elsbernd sings.

Monday, April 27

10:30 a.m. - City Operations & Neighborhood Services Committee

San Francisco has two contradictory missions when it comes to nightlife and culture:

1) To make this city a world class tourist attraction, and;
2) To prevent anyone from having any fun.

There, are, of course, perfectly good reasons to prevent people from having fun. Fun is not safe. It also annoys the neighbors. But let's be clear about this: Even after New Orleans was reduced to a multi-colored pile of rubble that weeble FEMA couldn't put back together again, more people showed up for Mardi Gras than came out here for "Responsible and Condescending Planet Saving Festival '08."

The jumble of policy prescriptions and administration action that we've recently seen in regards to tourism (which we want), street festivals (which we don't want, even though they bring tourists) and nightlife (which we're for, except when we're not, depending on whether champagne is served), comes from this dichotomy: We want people to have the time of their lives, but we also insist on telling them exactly how they will do that. We want to harness the power of creative expression without all that messy creativity.

The result is "war against fun" measures like the ones that keep bouncing around this committee.

Weeble Ross Ross Mirkarimi also has a truck.
  • Weeble Ross Ross Mirkarimi also has a truck.
You've seen them here before: A prohibition against loitering outside nightclubs; changes to entertainment permit and appeal procedures; changes to extended hour permit processes; these have been bouncing around for a long time ... and neither these bills (which are on the agenda again this week), nor Ross Mirkarimi's "culture and entertainment master plan" legislation, nor the city's de-facto but unofficial administrative policies on handling street fairs and festivals are coming around to present any kind of unified front.

So, at this meeting, we're going to argue about that some more, and come out exactly where we were when we started.

We weeble and we wobble and we won't fall down.

1 p.m. - Land Use & Economic Development Committee

This is not the exciting committee meeting that your parents were hoping to get you for Christmas. Not that you celebrate Christmas -- they know you've been a pagan since college.

Even still, this meeting is a PS2 in a PS3 world. And your parents don't know the difference.

On tap for the meeting are:

1) A zoning map amendment to 2400 Irving Street to make it a small scale commercial district;
2) The sale of old city freeway right-of-way properties that we've discussed before;
3) An official determination that the city's Green Building Ordinance is in fact green;
4) A hearing on the Eastern Neighborhoods Plans. Yes, I know, we've already adopted the Eastern Neighborhoods Plans ... but that's not going to stop Sophie Maxwell. These hearings are her life.

Your mother's right: There is no God. If life were ordered instead of meaningless and random, this would be a better meeting. Now call her. Collect. She'd like that.

Tuesday, April 28, 2 p.m. - Full Board of Supervisors

Let's start with the most exciting news: David Chiu's hearing on the Supervisors' "role and responsibilities during a city emergency" -- which was postponed when it came up a month ago -- is scheduled to take place today.

That means we can finally hear Ross Mirkarimi offer to bring his truck out to haul debris (he won't shut up about that Hemi V8 engine), and Carmen Chu volunteer: "I know first aid!"

David Campos, as it happens, is also a qualified lifeguard. So, we're in good hands.

But don't start feeling confident yet. There's important symbolic work to be done.

In addition to the usual meaningless gestures (opposing Prop 1D on the May state ballot; support for banning gun shows at the Cow Palace; urging the feds to stop raiding our medical cannabis dispensaries; commending "Parents for Public Schools"; declaring that the week of May 3 will be "Building Safety Week"; and designating June, July and August to be "Soda Free Summer") -- Michela Alioto-Pier has a resolution to support a Senate Bill (797) called "The Toxin-Free Babies and Toddlers Act."

That has to be the best-named bill I've ever seen.

"The Toxin-Free Babies and Toddlers Act"? I want to vote for it right now! I don't even know what it is, but I want all my democratically elected representatives to support it! Don't tell me about the costs, damn it! We MUST have toxin-free babies and toddlers! Toxic babies are not an option!

Thank you, Michela Alioto-Pier, for having the courage to support this measure and changing all our lives. The word "hero" is trotted out too easily these days, but I think it applies here.

After all -- toxic babies.

I don't know who authored Senate Bill 797 (which would forbid the sale of baby food containers and bottles made up of more than .1 part per billion of the potentially toxic plastic BPA). Your resolution doesn't actually mention that person. However, it does specifically mention you by name, and I guess that makes you even more responsible.

Thank you.

On the (slightly) less symbolic front, John Avalos has a proposal to approve the 2009 San Francisco Juvenile Justice Action Plan -- which I will admit that I've always mean to get around to reading, but haven't.

Some $42 million in certificates of participation for street improvements are up for a vote, as we've noted before, as are last week's water conservation ordinances.

Finally, the dubious agreement to lease city space to Recurrent Energy to build a solar power station that we promise to buy energy from is also before the full board today -- with key questions like "why?" and "seriously?" not yet answered.

People: Before we promise to pay someone big bucks to act as our middle man, could we please price out how much it would cost to build the solar station ourselves, and then take into account that doing it ourselves means we won't have to pay highly inflated (and locked in) prices for the solar power?

Unless those numbers are crunched, and unless they show that a third party really is a significantly better bet, this is a bad idea.

Wednesday, April 29

11 a.m. - Budget and Finance Subcommittee

For the record, weebling and wobbling is a lot harder than it looks. Just ask San Francisco Cable Access Television.

Do crazy people just up and create their own televisions programs? No. No they do not. It takes studio space, lots of equipment and it takes dedicated staff with a knack for training. It's not easy to explain non-linear editing to people who think the CIA is bugging their homes and want to produce a show about gardening.

Obviously these shows are a diverse lot. Occasionally those shows are pretty good -- and in this sense Cable Access TV perfectly represents the San Francisco ideal of empowerment.

Even more in keeping with San Francisco ideals, somebody else pays for it. Traditionally, public access stations have been funded by the large cable companies, which provide support to local cable access in exchange for the right to operate in a given municipality. If Time Warner wants to operate in SF, it has to help pay for SF cable access. SF Cable Access has weebled and wobbled quite successfully on that premise for a long time.

Recently, however, the state passed a law allowing cable companies to cut deals with the state, rather than local municipalities -- and San Francisco Cable Access staff say the cable companies aren't offering to provide anything near the support they need to operate.

That means that cable access, unlike weeble Gavin Newsom, might actually fall down.

But weeble Ross Mirkarimi -- who is apparently a big fan of that one cable access show where the hippie explains how the world really is -- has proposed a bill that would require cable companies to better fund cable access in the city. Cable access supporters say they're ecstatic, and plan to bring their supporters to the meeting today ... making this, I believe, the first time anyone has tried to pack the house at the Budget Subcommittee.

It's a milestone. It also could mean the difference between life and death for cable access in SF.

Also up at this meeting: Selling the Dolores Hotel property, establishing new "community preservation and blight reduction" fees (yes, more fees), and confirming a $10 million office supply contract with Office Depot.

Office Depot? Really? Somehow I always thought the city contracted with Dunder Mifflin.

1:30 p.m. - Budget and Finance Committee

Budget cuts to be discussed include cuts to the Children's Fund and to Public Safety.The committee will also discuss the allocation of Community Development Block Grants -- the money that pays for a significant chuck of the city's non-profits, most of which are swearing they'll die out if they don't get one.

The irony of government is that monies designed to make the world a better place bring out the absolute worst in people at funding meetings.

Thursday, April 10

1 p.m. - Government Audit & Oversight Committee

There's just one item at this meeting, a proposal by Mirkarimi that would:

"require the Recreation and Park Department to develop a plan, schedule and budget for restoring Sharp Park habitat for the California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake in conformance with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, and transferring Sharp Park to, or developing a joint management agreement with, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area."
In case any of you at home are now unsure whether your red-legged frog is healthy, here's a Web site on how to diagnose frog illnesses. Note: Sometimes red legs are a symptom, and sometimes frogs are just born that way.

3:30 p.m. - City & School District Committee

For those of you not familiar with the city school district's system for assigning students to schools, here's what it's like:

On election day, you go to your polling place and vote for the best candidates to represent you, all of whom live in your district. But when the results are announced you discover that you'll actually be represented by an Ohio wheat farmer named Doc, Carla Bruni -- the first lady of France -- and a Chinese mafia arms dealer who swears his name is "Snake" and wants to sell you a helicopter. Slightly used.

Naturally you're a little shocked. After all, none of these people actually do represent you ... or live in your district. But while the Federal Elections Commission understands your concern, they also know that -- frankly -- your district just isn't diverse enough. And if no one in your district who's Chinese, French, or currently living in Ohio is going to run for city supervisor then they'll just have to make a few choices for you.

Same thing with San Francisco schools. The district would like to let people choose to go to their neighborhood schools, but, all too often the "neighborhoods" in question are pretty homogeneous. And it wouldn't look good or feel good if our schools were basically divided along ethnic lines.

Hence the current system -- which actually does desegregate the schools, but which no one likes. Today at this committee meeting, people are going to complain about the system again, and be told -- again -- that it's being worked on.

You know ... just once ... at one of these meetings, I would like to see a Supervisor throw up his or her hands and say out loud what they have to be thinking at least half the time: "The problem's intractable. There actually is no way to make everyone happy. Maybe there is in Lego SF, where you can just buy a Star Wars space station kit and solve your housing problem once and for all, but not here. There is currently no way to actually solve this problem. We can only muddle along."

I would vote for that supervisor. I would follow him through hell.

Also up at this meeting is a hearing to discuss plans to create a School of the Arts on the Civic Center campus. This hearing will have absolutely nothing in common with the other hearing, EXCEPT that -- to raise money for the School of the Arts -- Supervisor Bevan Dufty is offering to sell a used helicopter. Cheap.

Whadd'ya mean where'd it come from? It fell off a truck, okay? There's your answer. Now, you want a helicopter or not?

It's got a yellow attachment. Very big in Europe.

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Benjamin Wachs


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