Response to Sierra Club Questionnaire
Mr. Mansfield (Sierra Club):
Your letter soliciting my views on the city’s environment
make me think, To a hammer the whole world looks like a nail.
That is, naturally enough, the Sierra Club looks at the November
election and thinks of the environment, just as the Raoul
Wallenberg Club might wonder, Is Anderson good for the Jews?
The ecological state of the city is not, however, the reason I’m running
for supervisor in the 5th District. You might say I’m more concerned with
the city’s political ecology.
I ran for the seat four years ago, and the issue that concerned me then----as
it does now---was homelessness. My question then was, How is it possible in the
most progressive city in the country that we allow 100-200 homeless people to
die on our streets every year? Interestingly, the other candidates and the mostly
progressive audiences I spoke to could barely stifle their yawns when I spoke.
Indeed, Matt Gonzalez, who won the election, never showed any interest in the
homeless issue at all.
This is revealing about the state of the city’s leadership and political
culture: there’s a peculiar political/ideological smugness that often hinders
progressives from seeing things clearly. This was particularly evident on the
homeless issue, where the tacit assumptions seemed to be that the homeless were
just another oppressed class to be defended in our wicked capitalist system and/or
that homelessness was another left coast lifestyle. The effect of such assumptions
was that no serious progressive initiative to deal with homelessness was proposed,
even though we were routinely able to get other issues before the voters in the
form of ballot initiatives---public power, solar power, and marijuana.
Until Gavin Newsom came along with Care Not Cash, which progressives reacted
to with howls of outrage, there has been no serious attempt to deal with homelessness
in the city.
This complacency is revealed in other issues, like Critical Mass and the Adam
Werbach appointment to the PUC, to name a few. With Critical Mass we have the
bike people screwing up traffic downtown during rush hour on the last Friday
of every month, supposedly on behalf of the cause of bikes in the city. Bikes
are Good, Cars are Bad. Well, no shit! How angering motorists and bus riders
trying to get home from work furthers that cause is, well, murky. Yet this bullshit
continues with no criticism from the progressive community. (Not to mention the
day-to-day conduct of bike riders in the city; they are consistently rude and
intimidating to pedestrians. I’ve almost been run down in crosswalks by
cyclists several times.)
The Werbach appointment: acting mayor Chris Daly appoints Adam Werbach to the
PUC while Mayor Brown is out of town. The appointment, while deemed technically
legal by the city attorney, was clearly out of bounds and a violation of the
political process. Yet the progressive community reacted with glee and approval.
Apparently the old means and ends moral/political questions no longer apply to
progressive political interests and issues. I disagree. Werbach explicitly endorsed
this politics of amorality in the SF Chronicle on April 4: “Act now, apologize
later when you’re trying to do something right…”
The only citywide progressive publication, the SF Bay Guardian, has obsessed
Ahab-like on public power while people die on our streets. The Guardian never
utters a critical word about city progressivism, which is a great disservice
to the left and the city.
My campaign will, in short, be a vehicle for progressive self-criticism in the
5th District and the city at large.
As one who walks a lot in the city and rides Muni every day, I’m sensitive
to life on city streets. The main problem, of course, is that there are too many
cars. A transit-first policy is only common sense, but it seems like pissing
against the wind in a small city with too many motorized vehicles. All we can
do is make it as difficult and expensive as possible for people to own cars in
the city, with rigorous traffic enforcement and high parking fines.
Of course Muni should transition to non-diesel buses as soon as possible.
As an experiment, the city might consider malling off a neighborhood, closing
it off to motorized traffic. The Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado, could
serve as a model for this.
The Treasure Island idea your questionnaire mentions sounds interesting; I’d
like to hear more about it.
The Urban Forest folks have certainly made the streets nicer with their tree-planting.
I first lived in SF in 1961, and I can testify to the improvement the trees have
made to many neighborhoods.
The thing about air pollution in SF is that we don’t notice it much, since
the ocean winds blow our pollution over to the East Bay and into the Valley,
which allows us to be more blasé about it than other communities. The
young people who work in the coffee house I frequent make me laugh when they
throw open the doors as soon as the sun comes out under the mistaken impression
that they are letting in “fresh” air. Along with noise and cold air,
they are also letting in carbon monoxide---invisible and odorless, to be sure---and
There are other “ecological” issues: dogshit in the parks is troublesome,
as are often the dogs themselves, though, as Mrs. Woodhouse used to remind people,
any dog problem is really a human problem. The Dogshit Community needs to be
put on a shorter leash, so to speak.
And then there’s the sex in the bushes issue: I’ve heard people call
Alamo Square Dogshit Park, and I’ve heard people call Buena Vista Park
Blowjob Park, due to the sexual activity in that park. I understand that anonymous
sex in the outdoors is a special sexual syndrome, but shouldn’t be tolerated
in public spaces. The progressive community isn’t particularly interested
in talking about this, presumably because the gay community is part of that community.
Why should you endorse me? I don’t know that you should, though I’m
more or less in sympathy with your concerns.