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Friday, August 9, 2002

From the Outside Looking In


By Alexa Llewellyn


Gonzalez's Game & Gilligan's Island

I always wondered if those in higher power even knew my name.

This week I found out that they did. Because for one reason or another, they were all using it when they were explaining how I was in trouble for some reason or another. Have you ever had one of those weeks?

The low point was when legislation that my staff and I had pushed through the very slow process of approval for the last three years and was within two weeks of finally being heard by the Board of Supervisors, was pulled in the bright light of pre-election fever.

It got me thinking about legacies and making an impact on your community. At a environment summit for high school students in May, Supervisor Matt Gonzalez talked about the need to create actions that create a greater good. He explained to the students that he and a friend would play a game. The game is to imagine that you were transported to another time in history. Is there any knowledge or skill that you could bring to the people living at that time that would make a positive impact?

Could you show the people living in England in the 1500s about Vitamin C in order to avoid rickets? Could you show the people in West Africa how to eat the mold that makes penicillin when someone needs antibiotics? Would you be able to help the Scots stop heart attacks with leaves from the prettiest wildflower in their fields, foxglove (digitalis purpurea)? Could you stop the Spanish monarchs from continually marrying their cousins, the Hapsburgs, in order to avoid the inbreeding that will eventually result in Carlos II the Bewitched?

It's an interesting exercise. My staff and I have played it several times. It allows you to think of the practical knowledge that you have accumulated over the years – as well as all of the unpractical knowledge. For example, the lyrics to the theme song of "Gilligan's Island" wouldn't come in handy if you were transported to Handel's time.

But here's a different twist to the game – what knowledge do we have now that would make an impact for the greater good for San Francisco in 2002? What information are we not sharing that could create a better San Francisco?

Last November, the people of San Francisco voted overwhelmingly for solar power. Eight months later, we haven't yet seen a solar panel installed. From what I can gather, the reason is that it takes time to figure out how to sell bonds and how to let out the contracts within the set procedures of the city's purchasing process. This is all well and good.

But the students at Wellesley College figured out how to fasttrack their solar program by raising capital in a different way. Through bake sales! Once they got a few solar panels and were able to sell back the electricity to the local power company, they began to get enough capital to retrofit the entire campus.

We have at least two supervisors fighting over programs for the homeless. The difficulty is finding space in the country’s second most densely populated city. Cities such as Denver, Omaha, and Minneapolis have found a solution. They contract with churches to have homeless people sleep in the basements of churches during at least the cold months of winter. The churches provide the homeless with a meal and a cot and in return get a small stipend per “guest” from their city.

Another large issue is child care. How can we provide adequate child care for all of our future leaders while their parents are working one, two, and three jobs to get enough money to support a family in San Francisco? Seattle is now debating legislation of a ten-cent tax on each cup of specialized coffee (simple cup of java is exempt) to go to child care programs.

We all have the knowledge and skills to make a difference. If one solution doesn't work, another solution can always be found. The trick is to find the right one.