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VOLUME 1, NUMBER 33   <>    MONDAY, AUGUST 21, 2000

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District 2: candidate for supervisor
Gavin Newsom was appointed supervisor in 1997 and elected in 1998. The founder, president and general partner of a number of enterprises including, locally, the PlumpJack Wine Shop, the PlumpJack Cafe, the Balboa Cafe, Newsom often plays businessman in City Hall: in 1998 he sponsored an initiative requiring City departments to submit an annual customer service plan. "Not a fan of district elections," his legislative interests to date have ranged all over the city. By his own account, he has accomplished the following:
Made the streets safer from red-light runners
Funded a 24-hour child abuse prevention talkline
Increased police patrols in our parks
Initiated the "Red Ribbon" AIDS license plate
Banned outdoor tobacco advertising in the city
Established youth-mentoring programs
Promoted customer service with city employees
Served as chair to the Community Parks Task Force
Authored legislation restricting jet ski use on the bay
Called for bike racks to be installed near parks
Drafted a "Customer First" MUNI plan
Promoted private-physician prescribed methadone
Established the Earth Day commemoration in San Francisco
Chaired the Taxi Task Force, bringing 400 more cabs to San Francisco
Added an additional 50 disabled-accessible taxis
Rolled back the cost of payphones on city property
Made casual carpooling sites possible and safe
Increased penalties for housing code violations
Added $800,000 for recreational enhancements
Promoted alternative fuel vehicles
Pursued uncollected parking taxes
Called for neighborhood diagonal parking
Cracked down on slumlords
And contributed to more than 100 other pieces of legislation


November 7, 2000:
election day
Beginning with this issue, the Call takes a look at each of San Francisco’s eleven supervisorial districts — what makes it special, who are its candidates, what are its concerns?
Here’s the schedule, in no rational order:
August 21  District 2
August 28  District 1
September 4  District 9
September 11  District 7
September 18  District 3
September 25  District 8
October 2  District 4
October 9  District 11
October 16  District 5
October 23  District 10
October 30  District 6

District 2: reality checks

dist2.jpg (80383 bytes)It’s Travelogue Central. With clear Mediterranean skies, tree-lined streets, and pastel stucco houses, Seacliff/Presidio Heights, Laurel Heights/USF, Pacific Heights, Cow Hollow, the Marina, and Russian Hill provide the prototype for Baghdad by the Bay. Surely, these six neighborhoods have contributed more than their fair share to the world’s image of San Francisco.

Back in the 1940s, when California was still a faraway unapproachable place to most Americans, radio audiences eagerly followed the domestic doings of "One Man’s Family" in Seacliff, where a foghorn often sang counterpoint to the dialogue. Countless moviegoers came to see Pacific Heights as a site of the good life: one of the accoutrements that goes with the Japanese consul-general’s elegant house on Vallejo is a collection of the films made on its premises, including "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner." And no guidebook to the area is complete without a photograph of the Marina and the Golden Gate Bridge. "In the residential district of Pacific Heights and the Marina," says James Benét’s 1966 Guide to San Francisco and the Bay Region, "three generations of San Francisco’s business, political, and social leaders have built fascinating revelations of their taste and character. Here, especially on the Heights, are the mansions of the city."

Closer to home, the area has acquired other resonances. In a city riven by economic disparity, it has become a symbol of reactionary respectability. "You don’t see them trying to put homeless shelters in Pacific Heights," Tenderloin residents grumble. Anti-development groups echo their plaint: "Imagine the uproar if they tried to tear down some of those old houses on Jackson and build condos in their place." If SoMa is dot.com heaven, the north side of town is where the preceding wave of well-heeled settlers put down roots. Advises San Francisco Underground Travel, "Pacific Heights is where all the yuppies in San Francisco live…. You can easily combine this with a trip towards the bay [to] the true yuppie kingdom, Marina Green and Chestnut Street."

Ever since the cablecar arrived on the scene in 1878 to carry newly rich residents to greater heights, the folks who live on the hill — whether Russian, Pacific, or Presidio — have invited invidious comparisons. And in the present-day political world, they certainly are a different lot, as the data gathered by researcher David Binder make clear. In a city known for its diversity, 78 percent of all District 2 residents are white. They’re highly educated: among the district’s likely voters, 76 percent are college graduates, compared to 61 percent citywide. They are indeed more affluent: 51 percent earn over $50,000 a year, in contrast to 40 percent throughout the city. But what may set them most distinctly apart is their party affiliation. To Democratic and further-left San Francisco, Republicans seem to be everywhere — they constitute 31 percent of all likely voters, compared to a piddling 17 percent for the city as a whole.

There’s a political truism that characterizes San Francisco politics, or at least it has in the past. When the city goes progressive, the votes come from the eastern districts, including the eastern reaches of Russian Hill. When conservatives rule, their support traces a giant "C" that rings three sides of the urban peninsula. Holding up the roof of the "C" is the wide east-west expanse of District 2. Binder notes that the voters in this district are

• somewhat more likely to support tough-on-crime measures and measures restricting homeless behavior;

• somewhat less likely to support environmental measures and pro-tenant measures;

• much less likely to support pro-labor, pro-diversity, and progressive taxation measures.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

kayak.jpg (36543 bytes)But even in this district, the stereotypes only take us so far. It turns out that, beneath the sheared Persian lamb’s clothing, this wolf puts on his pants one leg at a time, just like everyone else in the city. If you find the mixture of this metaphor daunting, you might consider that, no matter what kind of profile the statistics trace, the residents of District 2 still live in San Francisco and are still subject to the same winds of change that buffet the rest of us. It may just turn out that, with the advent of district elections, the necessity of new alliances will redefine their familiar features.

For starters, consider that, despite the popularly painted picture of property-owners hunkered down in multimillion-dollar mansions, most residents of District 2 are renters — 74 percent, compared to 65 percent citywide. Rent hikes tend to defy gravity and trickle up. As pressures on the housing market increase, even affluent renters are likely to sense a strain on their bank accounts. A Cow Hollow chapter of the Tenants Union seems a little far-fetched, but beleaguered pocketbooks do make strange bedfellows.

Or consider that bugbear of modern urban living, traffic. The 120,000 cars that cross the Golden Gate Bridge every day cannot compete with the monster rush of 270,000 vehicles invading SoMa via the Bay Bridge. Nevertheless, they make a mighty mess of travel along the commercial corridor of Lombard, with — according to Joan Girardot of the Marina Civic Improvement Association — 40 percent of the frustrated drivers seeking an alternate route along residential Bay and Marina Boulevard. Factor in $15 million in state funding newly available for repairs to Doyle Drive, and nearby neighbors fear an even greater spillover into local streets. It doesn’t stop there. Lacking evidence of coordinated planning, they foresee other tie-ups caused by unmonitored growth in the Presidio.

A mini-tempest in the yacht harbor mimics many of the whirlwinds stirring up dust in other parts of San Francisco. Last spring the city controller Ed Harrington released an audit describing the harbor as home to "deteriorated and, in some cases, dangerous facilities," the result of years of incompetent management. The stretch of water in question laps the shore of twelve-acre Marina Green, which is Rec and Park turf. Then acting general manager Joel Robinson floated plans for increasing berth fees, constructing breakwaters, and possible privatizing the operation of the harbor. Supervisor Gavin Newsom called for hearings, expressing concern over the threat of turning the area into an exercise in private enterprise: "From my perspective, bringing in private management would be an acknowledgment that the city has failed."

Residents protested the revival of a plan to construct two new breakwaters off the spit near the Wave Organ, a proposal that the Board of Supervisors had emphatically squelched in 1994. Silly rich folks, media reports implied; the Examiner quoted a Newsom staffer statement that they didn’t want their bay views obstructed. Don’t be naïve, snorts Joan Girardot. It would be difficult to block the views of homes along Marina Boulevard, where the first floor is simply garage space and the living area begins on the second floor. The issue is the preservation of open space. New breakwaters will fill in the bay and obstruct views from the public promenade near the water’s edge. They will further close off the existing inner west harbor, adding to the stagnation and filth of the water there. Girardot speaks of a cabal of boat owners and the denial of public access to the audit.

The preservation of open space along the waterfront. Opposition to filling in the bay. Distrust of behind-the-scenes planning for development. Sound familiar?

girl.jpg (26285 bytes)For this fall’s election, District 2 took the easy way out, nominating just one candidate for supervisor, Gavin Newsom. But over the next few years, alliances with other like-minded neighborhoods may open new channels for involvement. The political structure on which the district rests may turn out to be as unstable as the 1906 earthquake rubble on which it was built. The next time the residents have to choose, it will be interesting to see who has jumped onto the boat.